Art December 13, 2010 By Sarah Coleman

sm title Sally Mann
Sally Mann’s photographs have always had a tendency to unsettle people. Most famously, the photographer became a target of the culture wars in the early 1990s, when her direct, unsentimental images of her young children attracted national attention. Right-wing politicians were enraged that Mann, an artist supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, was photographing her children naked with bloody noses and urine-stained sheets. Unwittingly, she opened up a heated and vexing discussion about depictions of children in photography—a subject nuanced enough that it has inspired two novels to date: Kathryn Harrison’s Exposure and Dani Shapiro’s Black and White.
     To Mann’s credit, there was no artistic compromise following her spell as a congressional punching bag. In the two decades since, she’s gone on to produce work every bit as challenging as her early images of her children. Now, The Flesh and the Spirit (Aperture), which accompanies a retrospective exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, gathers together nine series of her images. It confirms Mann’s position as a major American artist whose work is often beautiful, often disquieting, and sometimes both at once.
     As the title implies, the images show an intense preoccupation with the human body and the relationship between its corporeal form and its animating life force.

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