William A. Ewing
Sally Mann: The Family, The Land. Mann's work is centered on portraits of her children as she observed them closely, they are complemented by landscapes, revealing strangely timeless places characterised by an exuberant nature seemingly charged with symbolism. The Collection on show: Polaroid in Peril! This collection houses the works of 850 photographers, including Ansel Adams, Gabriele Basilico, Walker Evans, Joan Fontcuberta, Luigi Ghirri, Robert Mapplethorpe, Sarah Moon, Helmut Newton....
Curators Sally Mann: the artist, in collaboration with Hasse Persson
Polaroid in danger!: William A. Ewing
The Family, The Land
For the first time in Switzerland, a museum exhibition is devoted to the exceptional oeuvre of Sally Mann. Over the past fifteen years this body of work has earned Mann a deservedly international reputation. Since the 1970's this American photographer (b. Lexington, Virginia in 1951) has been dealing with the troubling themes of intimacy and the inexorable passage of time. Sally Mann's work is centered on portraits of her children, as she observed them closely and with great honesty as they grew into young adults. The portraits are complemented by landscapes, revealing strangely timeless places characterised by an exuberant nature seemingly charged with symbolism.
Since her debut, Sally Mann has pursued the path of intimacy. Her work is distinguished by a specific technique, at the same time both traditional and inventive: the use of the large format camera together with a selective use of nineteenth-century processes. Mann is also admired for her mastery of optics and related exposure times, some of which can last several minutes.
Mann's work is concerned with the exploration of themes that are both personal and universal: childhood, memory, mortality. The photographs of her three children, gathered together in 1992 for the book Immediate Family, sparked immediate controversy, while propelling the artist to the summit of the American photography scene. However, in the dialogue that developed in the work between the children and their environments, the landscape would acquire increasing weight; by the beginning of the 1990s it would be depicted devoid of human representation. Wishing a fresh approach, the photographer attached nineteenth-century lenses to her camera (one of which is thought to have belonged to the celebrated portrait photographer Nadar). Profoundly attached to her place of birth, Mann focused her camera on the Southern States, a region marked by a particularly turbulent history. By employing antiquated equipment and nine-century photographic processes, Mann succeeded in infusing her images with a radiant atmosphere. The long exposure times render tangible air and light, evoking the great American tradition of the sublime.
The most recent works in the exhibition - those made since 2000 - reward viewing on another level. They deal poignantly with vulnerability, old age, death and decay. Fragility is also reflected in the tightly cropped portraits of the children - now young adults - and the large format invites contemplative scrutiny. It is now difficult to distinguish between Emmett, Jessie and Virginia, as the particularities of the photographic process confound distinguishing traits. By means of glass negatives and the wet collodion method, the artist once again questions memory and the ephemerality of life or as Sally Mann herself puts it in a phrase that could be either a declaration or a question: « what remains ». Thus the artist shares with us a personal vision, close and intimate, a meditation on life and death.
Immediate Family, 1984-1995
Immediate Family is a series of work where intuition plays an important role. Struck by the beauty of her three children, Emmett, Jessie and Virginia, Sally Mann photographed them over a ten year period on her property in Lexington. Since 1984, she has recorded ordinary, everyday and intimate moments that only parents can remember. She photographed her children angry, wounded, naked, playing or resting. Sally Mann sought to reveal these moments of truth that characterize childhood. Her images reveal the struggles that take place at this particular age: the search for autonomy, vulnerability, self-discovery, doubt, games, a sense of immortality and omnipotence, fear. The photographs of Sally Mann lift the veil on childhood. Beyond being portraits of her immediate family, the artist addresses with subtlety this tender age, this stage of life where character is forged. Immediate Family is also an immediate testimony to maternal love and what children give back in return. In each image, Emmett, Jessie and Virginia play a role, even when they seem to sleep or be unaware of the presence of the large format camera. All three agreed to pose and all three have agreed since that these images should be shown outside the family circle. With Sally Mann, family photography acquires an unexpected importance.
Deep South, 1996-1998
After Immediate Family, Sally Mann dedicated herself to nature, which had gradually taken over the portraits of her children. The artist, fascinated by the region of her birth – the Deep South of the United States, has chosen to work with equipment of the 19th century to photograph the magnificent scenery. Sally Mann plays with different toning techniques, especially with the imperfections of her camera: flaws of light and scratches on the negative underline, in the eyes of the artist, the 'radical light of the South'. Her photographs, which seem to belong to another century, reveal the strange beauty of the Southern landscape (Virginia, Louisiana and Mississippi) and evoke in a sudden and surprising manner, the presence of a tormented past. 'These images speak of rivers of blood, sweat and tears that Africans have shed in the dark soil of their new ungrateful homeland,' says Sally Mann.
What Remains, 2000
On 8th December 2000, an escaped armed prisoner committed suicide on Sally Mann's property in Lexington. This incident inspired the What Remains series. Sally Mann, deeply affected by the death of the fugitive on her property, decided to dig up the metal cage in which she had buried her English greyhound, Eva. She wanted to find the dog's remains. In a bag, she carefully placed the skin, bones and small fragments of the animal – tail bones, teeth, and claws. In her studio, the photographer recreated the animal from head to tail and photographed 'what remains'. Eighteen months have passed between the death of the dog and the photographs taken using the wet collodion process, an old photographic technique, which requires about six minutes of exposure time. The defects of the glass plate are visible and reinforce the idea of a memory being fixed. 'Is it too sentimental of me to want to keep my dog, or at least to keep part of it? Is it disrespectful to observe this form of intimate decomposition?' What Remains continued thereafter around new issues linked to decay and death.
What Remains, 2001
Sally Mann's growing fascination with death led her to taking a further step: she went to a forensic institute in Tennessee called 'Body Farm', where corpses are left to decompose. She obtained permission to photograph in the garden of the institute, where the bodies were placed among trees, plants and bushes. They were left there until the flesh was sufficiently decomposed to be examined by scientists. The second component of What Remains therefore offers a new reflection on death. The damaged bodies, whose remnants merge with the earth, haunt the artist. Photographing them allowed her to keep track of the fragility and vulnerability of the human being before it returns to dust. These images are certainly shocking, but Sally Mann has managed to surpass this raw representation by using the wet collodion process that has become her favourite medium. The collodion, developed by Briton Frederick Scott Archer in 1851 to sensitize glass plates, was also used to make bandages for the wounded in the Civil War. Just before making this series on the corpses of the 'Body Farm', Sally Mann walked the battlefields of the Civil War to 'walk in the midst of these remains – bones, lives, souls, hopes, joys and fears fallen by millions into the earth'.
What Remains, 2004
With the images from the Faces series, Sally Mann returned to her starting point: her children. These close-up pictures show the faces of Emmet, Jessie and Virginia who have now become adults. It is difficult to differentiate them in these dark and out of focus photographs, due to exposures that lasted several minutes. These collodion portraits evoke ambrotypes of the 19th century, glass plate negatives set upon a dark background. The surfaces are so marked that the faces seem to have been disfigured by the photographic emulsion. Sally Mann has not sought to refine the process, saying the involuntary flaws and scratches make her photographs already old images. Does she mean that these are posthumous images? The eyes are sometimes downcast in front of the camera. The series indeed gives a strange impression of rest.
The exhibition has been designed by Sally Mann in collaboration with the Swedish photographer and curator Hasse Persson. Prior to its presentation in Lausanne, it has been shown in Stockholm, Oslo, Helsinki, Helsingborg, Copenhagen and The Hague.
We would like to thank Sally Mann for the trust she has shown. We would also like to thank the Gagosian Gallery in New York, which represents the artist, and Wim van Sinderen, senior curator of the Fotomuseum den Haag, thanks to whom the Musée de l'Elysée has been able to host this exhibition.
The exhibition is accompanied in the Salle Lumiere (2nd basement level) with a documentary film by Steven Cantor. Made at Sally Mann's home, 'What Remains' gives us an intimate insight into the artist's life and reveals her methods, her approach and her motivations.
The Collection on show
Polaroid in Peril!
For half a century, Polaroid has been synonymous with instant photography. Both amateurs and professionals were enthusiastic about the idea of pressing the shutter of the camera and seeing a print appear a few minutes later. The Polaroid format with its white border made it an object immediately identifiable and also unique. Shortly after its launch in 1948, Polaroid became a cult object. In the 1960s, nearly half of U.S. households owned one.
Since its founding in 1937, the Polaroid Corporation has sought to innovate in many areas. Before the Second World War, it was known for its polarizing filters, its microscopes and its military sunglasses. Understanding that artists were most likely to invent new applications with instant film – and to push the process to its limits – Edwin H. Land, the founder of Polaroid, offered cameras and film to photographers in exchange for prints. The company continued this programme for many years, giving carte blanche to the artists. A Polaroid Collection was established, bringing together more than 16,000 works.
For twenty years, the Musée de l'Elysée has preserved more than 4,500 original prints of the European Polaroid Collection. This unique collection houses the works of 850 photographers, including big names such as Ansel Adams, Gabriele Basilico, Nancy Burson, Helen Chadwick, Walker Evans, Franco Fontana, Joan Fontcuberta, Luigi Ghirri, David Levinthal, Robert Mapplethorpe, Sarah Moon, Helmut Newton, Robert Rauschenberg, Lucas Samaras, Stephen Shore, Aaron Siskind, Oliviero Toscani, Andy Warhol and William Wegman. Important Swiss photographers are also represented in the collection, such as Béatrice Helg, Alan Humerose, Monique Jacot, Gérald Minkoff, Muriel Olesen and Christian Vogt.
Despite the attachment of professionals and amateurs, Polaroid films and cameras were a victim of the digital revolution. The successive bankruptcies of the Polaroid Corporation (2001 and 2008) are now threatening the future of its collection in the United States and Europe. In June 2010, the collection will be auctioned, at least in part, by the current owners, the PBC Corporation. The dispersion of these works will represent the loss of an unparalleled collection. The Musée de l'Elysée hopes that a solution will be found quickly to avoid the break up of this unique collection.
Avenue de l'Elysée 4, Mon-Fri 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
Rebecca Browring and Florent Meng
Students at the Geneva University of Art and Design
The gallery 'En avant-première', which presents the work of photographers in training in our venue at the Avenue de l'Elysée 4, continues its tour of art schools. For this fourth exhibition, the Musée de l'Elysée has selected works by Rebecca Browring and Florent Meng from the portfolios submitted by the Geneva University of Art and Design.
PARALLEL TO THE SALLY MANN EXHIBITION
« Développements »
The drummer and composer Leonzio Cherubini offers alongside the Sally Mann exhibition three artistic creation events taking place over three weekends. These events include poetry, dance and music in the galleries of the museum, echoing the work of Sally Mann.
The poetry, sensuality, mystery, mysticism, intimacy and innocence that permeate the work of Sally Mann are sources of inspiration for young actors from the Manufacture HETSR, professional dancers of the Philippe Saire Company and musicians in post-graduate training at the HEM Conservatoire in Lausanne.
'Développements' is produced with support of the City of Lausanne, the Canton of Vaud and the Loterie romande as well as La Manufacture, the Conservatoire de Lausanne and the Philippe Saire Company.
Sat 17.04 2 – 5 p.m. Composition and drumbs: Leonzio Cherubini
Sun 18.04 3 p.m. Actors: Baptiste Gilliéron, Stella Giuliani, Aurore Jecker, Cédric Simon
Dance presented under the banner of the 'Fête de la danse' event
Sat 24.04 2 – 5 p.m. Composition and drumbs: Leonzio Cherubini
Sun 25.04 3 p.m. Dancers: Matthieu Guénégou, Mickaël Henrontay-Delaunay, Jessica Huber, Alexandra Macdonald
Sat 01.05 2 – 5 p.m. Composition and drumbs: Leonzio Cherubini
Sun 02.05 3 p.m. Musicians : Jean-Valbert Gobillard, flute, Gaëtan Schwab, oboe and English horn, Blaise Ubaldini, clarinet, Claire Boissière, bassoon.
Image: Sally Mann, Virginia at 6, from the series "Immediate Family", 1991 © Sally Mann. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York
Marie-Claire Mermoud firstname.lastname@example.org
PRESS CONFERENCE THU, March 4, 1.30 - 3 p.m.
PREVIEW SALLY MANN AND POLAROID Fri, March 5, 6 p.m.
PREVIEW ESPACE EN AVANT-PREMIÈRE Fri, March 5, 5 p.m.
Musée de l'Elysée
18, avenue de l'Elysée CH- 1014 Lausanne
The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
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En Avant-première Gallery : Weekdays from 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
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Free entrance on first Saturday of each month
Free entrance to En avant-première gallery