Sally Mann’s project, Antietam is a body of work depicting the battlefields of Antietam, near Sharpsburg, Maryland though they are taken between the years of 2000 and 2002, approximately 140 years after the warring had taken place.
Mann’s photographs of Antietam followed to some degree, one of her previous projects, Mother Land, that found its beginnings in Mann’s discovery of nearly ten thousand glass negatives, in an attic at Washington and Lee University, Virginia that had been taken by a Civil War Veteran. Mann responded with her own work, published as Recent Landscapes of Georgia and Virginia. The work is said to be the photographs re-enacting, “something of her initial experience of temporal collapse and disorientation” (P.131, Saltzman, What Remains: Photography and Landscape, Memory and Oblivion) as she’d worked her way through the photographs that had a deep sense of place for her and created a feel of the past and present being far less delineated.
The Mother Land photographs, like the Antietam photographs were created using equipment that was out of date for typical usage for the time of shooting. Although both of these projects were shot before the standard tendency for digital photography Mann worked with, “antique lenses…the antiquated wet collodion process to yield the black-and-white, silver nitrate prints” (ibid). The techniques allowed her to show a melding of the past and the present was possible within an image. The haunting look of the prints shows nothing of some of the bloodiest American Civil War sites and yet still shows something of the locations of extreme bloodshed implied by the significant ‘imperfections’ to the prints, the loneliness of the tall tree on the horizon in image 11 of Antietam, growing in the hollow of the land – possibly a hollow that had been used for bodies, if we consider some of the denotive documentation of the battlefields by Alexander Gardner.
Sally Mann’s work is not aftermath photography but something with a much keener intention to relate to a viewer a greater sense of ‘what happened’ than ‘what closure we have come to’. The scarring of the events of the Civil War upon the collective psyche of the South are something Mann has demonstrated in her work suggesting the degree to which, “legacy, historical and photographic, structures her work,” (P.129, ibid). It is this sense of structure that I hope to be able to bring to my intended work; that whilst not being directly influenced by Mann’s, can be influenced by her ability to look at the past without suggesting closure or fabricating exact recreations.
Saltzman, L, What Remains: Photography and Landscape, Memory and Oblivion, in Haunted, Guggenheim Museum Publications, D.A.P. / Distibuted Art Publishers, New York