This is an important book by an important photographer. The subject is death and the subject is approached and confronted with candor and tenderness. The photographs were made using a wet plate process that is fraught with technical imperfections. But technical perfection is not the goal. The goal is emotional and the goal is achieved brilliantly. From the bones of a beloved greyhound to decomposing human corpses at a forensic "body farm" to battlefield landscapes, the photographs confront death with staggering beauty. The final chapter, consisting of close-ups of the faces of her family, is a fitting summation of what remains that really matters.
"Unless you photograph what you love, you're not gonna make good art"; Sally Mann
I had seen some of Sally Mann's work before in the US, but it wasn't until after I had seen the exhibition "The Family and The Land" over in Europe that I was really blown away by her work. Serene photographs about the inevitable... death and decay. Of loved ones such as her deceased dog, but also of the countless bodies on the Forensic Study Facilty in Tennessee. A harsh reality but she makes you think about life and death and about what happens after we die. What really remains of us besides our bones? Most of the photographs in this book were part of that exhibition and while the book itself really showcases the power and brilliance of this amazing artist, these prints ultimately need to be seen on a large scale. The technical imperfections caused by the glass plate technique add to the power of her work.
The books ends with portraits of her three children, each print of equally breath taking beauty. I guess love is what remains...
What Remains faces the process of death with clarity and calmness.
Some of the photos are shocking, but Mann handles the subject without sentimentality or sensationalism. Her use of an antique camera emphasis the organic nature of her subjects and emphasises the textures. So there is a photograph of corpse, barely more than a skeleton, with a skeleton's shocking grin, but a loveliness and delicacy to the skin across the chest which references the fallen leaves around and there are intense close-ups of her three adult children, which reduces their features to a surface, reminiscent of a death mask and devoid of the animation and personality which characterised her photos of them when they were young.