Hold Still by Sally Mann

I did not know Sally Mann's work before reading Hold Still, but I quickly came to appreciate it. And not just her photography, but her pairing of photographs with personal history. We are so lucky to be able to record our lives through the means of writing and photography - Mann does this particularly well.

And, for as good as she is, she acknowledges the irony of recording memories in such a way - locking moments statically in place that diminish their former dynamic quality. How often do we recall frozen-in-time photos instead of detailed, moving recollections of our past? Alternatively, with the broken scraps of photos and letters, how do we come to know better who we are and where we came from? 

I am not sure if anyone's family's history would qualify the need for a nearly-500-page memoir, but Mann's history, and her husband's, is ripe with material. Couple this with her artistic ability and you have a pretty interesting take on life, even if it's hosted by the history of others.

In her memoir, she covers her youth, her husband's parents, her parents, the controversial series she photographed of her children, her genetic preoccupation with death, race and racism and, ever present, her love of Virginia and the raw beauty that has always inspired her work there. 

...I have tried to nail down just what it is that makes it [the South] at once so alluring and so repellent, like fruit on the verge of decay. Ultimate beauty requires that edge of sweet decay, just as our casually possessed lived are made more previous but a whiff of the abyss. We southerners, like Proust, have come to believe that the only true perfection is a lost perfection, buying into our own myth of loss by creating a flimflam romance out of resounding historical defeat. In that nexus between myth and reality we live uncomfortably, our cultural sorrows, our kindheartedness, and our snoot-cocking, renegade defiance playing out against a backdrop of profligate physical beauty.
— Sally Mann, Hold Still

Reading her thoughts on the South and its complexities served as an especially provocative looking glass into present times in Virginia and the South. While I was a little uncomfortable with its perspective at times, it was a vulnerable admission of her privileged experience, and was a lens through which to view a polarized part of the world - a part of the world into which we very much need insight and understanding if we are to see any progress.