Hold Still

Sunflower – front and back (A5 Stillman and Birn Gamma sketchbook 2019)

Sally Mann is probably best known – to those without an interest in contemporary photography – as that woman who took pictures of her kids naked or, perhaps, the one who photographed decomposing bodies at a federal forensic anthropology facility.

She is that Sally Mann, as well as the one who documented her husband’s muscular dystrophy in a series of deeply moving images; who published pictures of the Deep South, “haunted landscapes, battlefields, decaying mansions…and the site where Emmett Till was murdered” (according to Newsweek); who wrote a remarkable, award-winning memoir, listed as one of the twenty best in the New York Times, called Hold Still.

It’s worth reading for its beautiful prose and often candid photographs, including ones that Mann thought hadn’t actually worked. One of the book’s many charms is this Gagosian-represented artist’s admission that some of her work, y’know, wasn’t up to scratch. That happens to me. It happens to you as well, I imagine? Well, it also happens to those whose work is on sale in one of the world’s leading galleries.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s unlikely that even the most accomplished photographer will produce spun gold every time she points her camera. Yet how satisfying to read that:

Writing came first. I was frequently the poet on duty when the Muse of Verse, likely distracted by other errands, released some of her weaker lines, but that didn’t stop my passion for it.

Maybe you’ve made something mediocre – there’s plenty of that in any artist’s cabinets – but something mediocre is better than nothing, and often the near-misses, as I call them, are the beckoning hands that bring you to perfection just around the blind corner.

It’s that passion, those beckoning hands, that keep us moving on. We probably shouldn’t seek perfection as such (and Ms Mann points out elsewhere that this is something with which she struggles on a daily basis) but it’s the moving forward that matters. It’s not just a case of the grass being greener over there, but the passion in creating something is requited more completely when you achieve something like the image – or the piece of writing – you had in your head.

I’m not sure I really needed Sally Mann to tell me that, but I’m somehow pleased that she confirmed it in this very special memoir.

17 thoughts on “Hold Still

  1. Why is this sunflower so arresting? Is it because it’s the first thing I opened in my email this morning? Or that it is handled like no other sunflower painting I’ve seen. It is simple, direct, clean, interesting, architectural. Thanks for sharing it with the wider world.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love that you did both front and back views. Both Sides Now.
    It’s process, not product, that’s important–that’s what my children’s kindergarten teacher thought anyway, and it seems to be true. Satisfied or not, I keep on. (K)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Vivie,

    I do hope you have a pleasant birthday.

    Again, my most sincere thanks for looking after Zoe; she seems quite settled and isn’t ‘paying me back’. It is wonderful that we can do such kind things for each other – and return favours when we can.

    So, please call on me if your animals need care at any time, or if your neighbours or family need a day off.

    I wish I could even draw something like the sunflower below! I love the way the rear view puts it all together in the mind.

    I’m looking forward to our meeting next Wednesday 4th.

    Kind regards, Yvonne

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I confess to being one of those people who knew her as….and didn’t know she was such a good writer. Thank you for correcting that, talking about the memoir, and extracting that nugget from it. Not to mention the lovely sunflower watercolor, so careful and exuberant at the same time.

    Liked by 1 person

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