New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 35 October 31 to November 6, 2012

Facing It
Sally Mann
Upon Reflection
John D. Roberts
Untitled (Self-Portrait)
 by Sally Mann. Source:
Sally Mann, "Untitled (Self-Portrait)
" 2006-12

In the summer of 2006, Sally Mann severely injured most of her torso when thrown from the back of her horse. An email included in the press release from the Edwynn Houk Gallery recounts her experience of watching her beloved stallion die, ending with a promise to get some printing done “if ever [she could] get vertical and move [her] arms.” Given the severity of her injuries, this may have appeared to be wishful thinking at the time, but this promise would not go unfulfilled.

Though her condition eliminated the possibility of travel, Mann was able to find a thoroughly interesting subject in herself. Using a somewhat dated technique while incorporating a modern eye, she has produced a visually arresting series of images on squares of black glass. Current visitors to the Houk gallery have the privilege of seeing 84 of these plates hung by themselves, as well as in arrangements of three, nine, and twenty. The presentation is elegantly simple, the work's ability to take profound command of the space making it immediately clear why no description of process, artist's statement, or even labels for the work, can be found on the walls.

The vast majority of images focus on Mann's face – a face that only becomes more interesting as it is repeated frame after frame in different incarnations executed in different processes, expressing entirely different moods. The face feels flawed, imperfect, lived in, imbued with a restless spirit and inhabiting a space in limbo. The images - while beautifully rendered – have a decidedly ominous presence and are at times as repellant as they are magnetic. The longer I looked into these faces, the more I began to see death masks.

Untitled (Self-Portraits) by Sally Mann. Source:
"Untitled (Self-Portraits)" 2006-12

From Mann's previously unseen series, 'Omphalos' (the 'naval' or center of the earth in Greek mythology) are a set of intensely sculptural works that focus on the torso. Her processes successfully transform the body into a sacred icon, making the inclusion of these images in the show natural. That said, they are worlds less interesting than the images of Mann's face that surround them.

The largest arrangement of pieces on display, a four by five grid of twenty images, registers as the artist's statement and makes clear the purpose her works were meant to serve. The viewer begins to understand that Mann's intention was never to arrive at any particular destination, but simply to enchant and delight in the spirit of self exploration. The works never get tired, and the repetitive nature of their display suggests only the need for a closer look at things previously unnoticed.

The real success of the works' presentation is that while individual images reflect very different moments of the human experience, they are entirely different - and decidedly greater – when intricately joined in these massive grids.

In this particular case, the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts, and Mann's success in her own self discovery will undoubtedly lead viewers to look long down their own dark and dust-covered corridors.

Sally Mann
Upon Reflection

Edwynn Houk
745 Fifth Ave. 4th Fl
Midtown         Map

212 750 7070

Thursday, September 13 to
Saturday, November 3, 2012
Hours: Mon-Fri, 11 to 6

Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat