Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Paris Exhibition ~ Sally Mann until 22 September 2019

Sally Mann has a beautiful show running at the Jeu de Paume in Paris just now.

My wife and I went last Sunday to see it just after the Bastille Day celebrations were finished (the museum didn't open until 13h30 that day).

The crowds were small-ish, though it was difficult to move freely through the first couple of rooms of the exhibit.  But once well inside the show there were fewer people and we could enjoy taking our time to look at the photographs.

My gawd! those photos can be beautiful.  It was a real joy to see deep, richly printed black and white images.  We found Sally Mann's work to be very expressive and deeply moving.

In general, I think the French have a difficult time understanding and appreciating the large landscape works of someone like Ansel Adams.  Those works tend to be remote and cold and people aren't real sure how these can be appreciated.

Certain West Coast photographers like Edward Weston are more approachable for the French.  And if I understand correctly, it has to do with his bohemian lifestyle (he reportedly had many lovers), his images of people and more personal subjects and his political sensibilities (he spent time in Mexico around the edges of the Communist movement).

From the number of shows we see listed here in Paris, the French embrace American street photographers, mainly from New York.  And they really appreciate good American photographers who make Paris their home, like Peter Turnley.

So it was interesting to us to see how the French reacted to Sally Mann.  Her work is not as literal as some people might be used to.  Listening to the French as they talked through the show was fascinating.  Some marveled at the optical effects that create smooth out of focus background renditions.  Some people were taken by the beauty of Sally's subjects (and my gawd! can her subjects be beautiful).  And others were surprised by how slavery in America continues to impact culture and society there and how this history could be so accurately portrayed in an artistic work.

For me the exhibit worked well on two levels.  The first is that her work is inspirational.  Sally Mann has found a way to use the tools of photography to express the various themes she explores in a way that transcends the tools in the creation of her works of art.

The second level is more profound.  Much is made about race relations in America.  After seeing the show I can't help but feel a deep sadness for terrible things in American history that continue to influence the present.