Sally Mann – Southern Landscapes

As part of my research for Part 4 of the course, I looked at the work of Sally Mann, in particular, her Southern Landscapes.

The quotation by Sally Mann (course notes p 80) interested me in its description of the light and it encouraged me to start to look at light as changeable and varied:

‘The light in the south is so different from the north, where you have this crisp and clear light. There is no mystery in that light. Everything is revealed in the northern light. You have to live in the south to understand the difference. In summer, the quality of the air and light are so layered, complex, and mysterious, especially in the late afternoon. I was able to catch the quality of that light in a lot of the photos’.

I was intrigued by the use of so many adjectives to describe the light, just in this one paragraph: crisp, clear, revealing, quality, layered, complex, mysterious.

Mann’s Southern Landscape images are beautiful. They are soft and dreamy. A response to Mann’s interest in death, they are ethereal – ‘of an unreal lightness or delicateness, fairylike, heavenly or spiritual’ (chambers dictionary)

Mann used a wet plate development technique that enhances the ‘other-worldliness’ of her images. The use of ‘black and white’ further suggests death and decay as do the processing flaws and marks that are evident in the final images.

The Southern Landscape images have a dark vignette which, to me, is suggestive of looking through something to see a hidden picture, or even, of the oft-repeated description of approaching death as like going through a tunnel towards the light. The rounded shape created by the vignette further softens the image, as does the use of double exposure and shallow depth of field, emphasising the dreamy, haunted feeling.


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3

In Mann’s interview (2013 The Touch of an Angel), she says:

‘Southerners are preoccupied with the past, with myth, with family, with death. And, of course, we tend to be a little more romantic… I am less interested in the facts of a picture than in the feelings…  I truly felt as if I was being kept company by departed souls, by ghosts.’

I feel that Mann’s images are hugely successful in depicting a preoccupation with death and mystery. The background light encourages the viewer to look beyond the foreground and towards the light as if being drawn into the image against her will, just as we may approach our own death. The softness suggests the unreal or the unknown, something different to the real world, while the contrast emphasises the contrast of death with life.

I am inspired to look again at a wooded area of high ground locally, that I have particularly noticed on foggy days for the feelings of apprehension and mystery created by the soft light. I hope to try to capture some of this feeling of mystery as I consider this further in my research for Assignment 4.


1-3 Mann, Sally (1998) Southern Landscapes (Photographs). At: 22.1.17


Mann, S (2010)The Touch of an Angel. Interview. At: Accessed 22.1.17


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