Artist Analysis: Sally Mann


Mann is noted for using large-format cameras, sometimes with damaged lenses that admit light leaks and imperfections—to reveal the uncanny beauty in her subjects, be they decomposing corpses, Civil War battlefields, or her own family.

The Controversial Art of Sally Mann

From Mann’s perspective, the naked child represents the most basic, primal way to look at the human body, as it epitomizes the essence of an individual before they develop and society sexualizes them. In this sense, Mann’s art is simultaneously specific to her children as individuals and universal, applying to the life and childhood of all individuals. Her work depicts her three children as representative of all of humanity. It challenges “assumptions of childhood innocence”  by showing that children do possess an undeveloped sexuality that they are not yet aware of. That is, they are aware of their bodies, but they do not understand their sexual functions and they do not yet view nakedness and sexuality as shameful. These are things that society teaches them as they grow up.

Works that I found amusing:

The Perfect Tomato (1990)

Sally Mann- The Perfect Tomato (1990)

I found this artwork extremely mesmerizing. Her child was bathe in the light, and entirely white. This is adds an unique touch to it, at the same time creates a surreal and serene look, adding a sense of calmness at the same time. Her daughter is nude here, as if suggesting the raw form of innocence and purity. White is a colour associated with purity. This may also be something Sally Mann wanted to highlight in her artwork. The colour white also reminded me of sculptures, which are often highly valued and delicate. Her daughter is tip toeing, and her pose looks like a ballet dance move. It adds elegance and grace, further adding to the magical and serene feeling.

Sally Mann also made use of strong contrast to bring out the subject, which is her daughter. The surroundings are much darker, which causes the viewer to look at the subject, which is a much lighter tone. The fact that the parts where the girl stands and the trees near her were all white creates this illuminating look. It is as if she was glowing.

The use of monotone, black and white, is not just a style she adopts but also something that marks this photo out as magical and mesmerizing. If she used colors, the mood would probably turn out entirely different.

I am truly fascinated by this piece of work. It highlighted the fragility of innocence as well as purity.



Remembered Light, Untitled ( Flamingo Profile) (2012)

Sally Mann- Remembered Light, Untitled (Flamingo Profile) (2012)
Sally Mann- Remembered Light, Untitled (Flamingo Profile) (2012)

It is amazing how Sally Mann played around with layout and composition. I loved how she could express depth and space in her works, especially the first one (above). The soft lighting highlighted the different texture of the materials found in her photo. I can sense and feel them vividly. She positioned the things carefully into the background, foreground, creating depth and space. Perhaps using black and white also allows us to focus on the structure and texture of the objects. If there was colour, the viewer would probably be distracted by the colours considering the number of things within the frame.

As for the second artwork , although the flamingo is the main focus of the photo, there is also a bear structure which was positioned in the foreground. Although it was closer to the viewer, the viewer’s eyes eventually settles on the flamingo. I found this technique very useful and something I would like to try.

It is important to know how too lead and guide the viewer’s eyes, bringing the focus to light.







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