As far back as 1901 mile Zola telegraphed the threat of this relatively new medium, remarking that you cannot claim to have really seen something until you have photographed it. What Zola perhaps also knew or intuited was that once photographed, whatever you had ?really seen? would never be seen by the eye of memory again. It would forever be cut from the continuum of being, a mere sliver, a slight, translucent paring from the fat life of time; elegiac, one-dimensional, immediately assuming the amber quality of nostalgia: an instantaneous memento mori. Photography would seem to preserve our past and make it invulnerable to the distortions of repeated memorial superimpositions, but I think that is a fallacy: photographs supplant and corrupt the past, all the while creating their own memories. As I held my childhood pictures in my hands, in the tenderness of my ?remembering,? I also knew that with each photograph I was forgetting.
I chose photography over writing. I had to make a living.
I never read about photography.
If I could be said to have any kind of aesthetic, it?s sort of a magpie aesthetic?I just go and pick up whatever is around. If you think about it, the children were there, so I took pictures of my children. It?s not that I?m interested in children that much or photographing them?it?s just that they were there?
Luck, aesthetic luck included, is just the ability to exploit accidents.
The hardest part is setting the camera on the tripod, or making the decision to bring the camera out of the car, or just raising the camera to your face, believing, by those actions, that whatever you find before you, whatever you find there, is going to be good.
Time, memory, loss and love are my main artistic concerns, but time, among all of them, becomes the determinant.
You have to just go on. It's sort of like a bird flying into a plate glass window. And then you just sort of pick yourself up, shake yourself off, and check for anything broken, and go back to work.
As for me, I see both beauty and the dark side of the things; the loveliness of cornfields and full sails, but the ruin as the well. And I see them at the same time, and chary of that ecstasy. The Japanese have a phrase for this dual perception: mono no aware. It means beauty tinged with sadness, for there cannot be any real beauty without the indolic whiff of decay. For me, living is the same thing as dying, and loving is the same thing as losing, and this does not make me a madwoman; I believe it can make me better at living, and better at loving, and, just possibly, better at seeing.
I couldn't be Susan Sontag. I'm not very good with abstract thought. I always just take to the emotional core of me. Sally Mann Good, Me, Thought Weeks go by, and I don't talk to another living soul. Sally Mann Soul, Living, Talk I taught up in Maine a couple of times and wasn't able to take a single picture. All that blue sky! Ugh. Sparkling clear air, just terrible. I couldn't do it.
I remember when the family album came out, people would just knock on our door because they thought they knew us, and that, of course, is one of the great hazards.
If I take enough pictures, I'm going to get a good one, and I know not to stop at a bad one.
Maintaining the dignity of my subjects has grown to be, over the years, an imperative in my work, both in the taking of the pictures and in their presentation.
The postmortem readjustment is one that many of us have had to make when our parents die. The parental door against which we have spent a lifetime pushing finally gives way, and we lurch forward, unprepared and disbelieving, into the rest of our lives.
To be able to take my pictures, I have to look, all the time, at the people and places I care about. And I must do so with both ardor and cool appraisal, with the passions of eye and heart, but in that ardent heart there must also be a splinter of ice.
You lost the remembrance of pain through inflicting it.
At the age of 16, my father's father dropped dead of a heart attack. And I think it changed the course of his life, and he became fascinated with death. He then became a medical doctor and obviously fought death tooth and nail for his patients.
I couldn't deal with a normal life.
I smoked, I drank, I skipped classes, I snuck out, I took drugs, I stole quarts of ice cream for my dorm by breaking into the kitchen storerooms, I made out with my boyfriends in the library basement, I hitchhiked into town and down I-91, and when caught, I weaseled out of all of it . . . There is no need to switch on the fog machine of ambiguity around these facts: I was still a problem child.
If it doesn?t have ambiguity, don?t bother to take it. I love that, that aspect of photography?the mendacity of photography?it?s got to have some kind of peculiarity in it or it?s not interesting to me.
Matte digital prints are gorgeous, don't you agree? But the glossy digital prints, I just can't stand that paper.
The proverbial hospitality of the South may be selectively extended but it is not a myth.
To identify a person as a Southerner suggests not only that her history is inescapable and formative but that it is also impossibly present. Southerners live uneasily at the nexus between myth and reality, watching the mishmash amalgam of sorrow, humility, honor, graciousness, and renegade defiance play out against a backdrop of profligate physical beauty.
Before the invention of photography, significant moments in the flow of our lives would be like rocks placed in a stream: impediments that demonstrated but didn?t diminish the volume of the flow and around which accrued the debris of memory, rich in sight, smell, taste, and sound. No snapshot can do what the attractive mnemonic impediment can: when we outsource that work to the camera, our ability to remember is diminished and what memories we have are impoverished.
I don't know what the instinct is, to save every report card, every half-sentence scribbled note, but my mother did it pretty effectively, and I've done it to a fare-thee-well.