Sally Mann
[Photographer, b. 1951, Lexington, Virginia, lives in Lexington.]

 I photograph my children growing up in the same town I did. Many of my pictures are intimate, some are fictions and some are fantastic but most are of ordinary things every mother has seen; a wet bed, bloody nose, candy cigarettes. They dress up, they pout and posture, they paint their bodies, they dive like otters in the dark river. 
 We are spinning a story of what it is to grow up. It’s a complicated story and sometimes we try to take on the grand themes: anger, love, death, sensuality and beauty. Without fear and without shame. 
 The camera was ever-present. It was always set up. And the children knew that if there was some drama or if there was something alluring or engaging or interesting about what they were doing, a picture was likely to be made. 
 When I started doing the family pictures, there was originally a documentary impulse. It wasn’t even conscious. Something would happen and I would reach for a camera, because of the power of what was taking place. As I continued the project, that impulse expanded—I was interested in a lot more than just the black eye or the stitches in the emergency room. I was after the whole, all-encompassing concept of childhood, including the halcyon moments at the farm, the quotidian aspects of childhood as well as the more dramatic ones. 
 Seldom, but memorably, there are times when my vision, even my hand, seems guided by, well, let’s say a muse. 
 When we made these pictures, the kids knew exactly what to do to make an image work: how to look, how to project degrees of intensity or defiance or plaintive, woebegone, Dorothea Lange dejection. I didn’t pry these pictures from them—they gave them to me. 
 I keep trying to take better pictures. My approach is one of squinty-eyed doggedness. It would seem mechanical except for those ecstatic moments of luck that occasionally befall me. I am convinced that this persistence has played a far greater part in the making of my work than any special talent. 
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