cover image Deep South

Deep South

Sally Mann. Bulfinch Press, $60 (115pp) ISBN 978-0-8212-2876-0

Mann rose to prominence with Immediate Family, a collection of photographs of her children that some saw as emotionally direct and others found disturbingly erotic. Regardless, these photographs, and her subsequent work, demonstrate that Mann has a preternatural eye for light and composition. In this book, Mann, inspired by ""a cache of glass negatives...of familiar local places,"" set off with her camera through the South, using eighteenth century photographic techniques to capture the ""radical light of the American South,"" and the results are fascinating. In Georgia, a column of leaves dissipates into a luminous mist; in Virginia, a scumbled field with an empty cart in the distance suggests a test shot by Matthew Brady. Many of these photographs are startling in their intimations of violence: in the section called ""Deep South,"" Mann depicts the thick shaft of a venerable tree with a wound-like, horizontal slash near the trunk. Mann has also included the inevitable mistakes involved with such a tricky process: indiscernible unhappy accidents and washed-out near-abstractions. This is brave but puzzling. In one of her short essays, Mann writes that the Southern dusk makes ""the landscape soft and vague, as if inadequately summoned by some shiftless deity, casually neglectful of the details."" A god may enjoy such prerogatives, but shouldn't artists be more mindful? Most of the 65 images here are hauntingly beautiful and offer a stunning tour of a very off-the-beaten-path part of the country.