Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Book Review: Hold Still by Sally Mann

Title: Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs
Author: Sally Mann
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Source: Digital Copy
Content Alert: suicide, murder, sexual predation

I didn't know anything about Sally Mann when I picked up Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs, all I knew was that the book had been nominated for the National Book Award. I soon learned that Mann is a photographer who originally rose to fame in the 90s, when she published Immediate Family, a book of photographs of her children engaged in all of the intimate moments of growing up with children (sick, naked, vomiting-- she didn't shrink from capturing any of these moments. And the result is not Instagram but art. In Hold Still, Mann's story is all over the place-- she delves back into the distant past of her Southern relatives and the less distant past of the murder-suicide of her in-laws. She writes about racism and the long trip she took around the south with a photo lab in the back of her station wagon.

Just like you'd expect from the subtitle, Hold Still is full of Mann's photographs. And when I looked at them, my initial response was not often positive. These are pictures that demand your attention. They're shadowed and often sort of spectral, and after looking at them for a while, I often grew to appreciate them. I felt the same way about the memoir. The narrative thread of the story isn't immediately apparent, but after reading the book for a while, you realize you're enjoying yourself so much you really don't care. It's a little weird, but it works.

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