Featured post

Contemporary Narratives - Photography: A Short Guide to History, Theory, and Practice: Online Course Starting April 27th 2022

  Sign up to my new series of talks on Contemporary Narratives - Photography: A Short Guide to History, Theory, and Practice .  Starts on Ap...

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Proud Flesh and Adult Muscular Dystrophy

So here are some images from Proud Flesh,  Sally Mann's pictures of her husband Larry (thanks for the suggestion, Suzanne Revy). They are notable because they are taken of a man by a woman, but also because they go against the norm of the male nude - they're not heroic, muscular or virile.

The pictures focus on Larry's adult muscular dystrophy, on the failure of his body, on its fall into physical darkness. These are photographs of human frailty, where the fragility of the medium mirrors the bodily decay.

I'm not sure if these pictures reflect badly on Larry Mann, if, as Sally says, they "come at the expense of the sitter".But they do reveal his weakness and his impotence; he has no response to what has struck him down. If they didn't do that, if they showed some phoney nobility of spirit, some humanity in the face of illness, they wouldn't be nearly so strong.

This is what John B.Ravenal has to say about the pictures in The Flesh and the Spirit.

"The long, sometimes awkward poses endured in the underheated barn that serves as Mann's studio, with minimal props and Spartan surroundings, have produced a sustained reflection on aging and mortality forged in a collaboration based on trust and mutual respect.The works reveal a subject willing to make himself vulnerable and to be measured against the idealized images thatstill pervade our conception of masculinity, and taken by a photographer aware of the unusual opportunity presented to her. Reflecting on the situation, Mann stated,  "Larry and I both understand how ethically complex and potent the act of making photographs is , how freighted with issues of honesty, responsibility, power and complicity, and how so many good images come at the expense of the sitter, in one way or another. These new images, we both knew, would come at his."


darrell Eager said...

I'm not sure what to say but my god what a history this woman/artist has given us.

colin pantall said...

No kidding, Darrell - she's set her own agenda, that's for sure.

Randy in Cincy said...

Per your description of the photos -- "...they're not heroic, muscular or virile." I'd have to disagree, as I think most of us would. He looks plenty muscular when compared to society's uber-obese man... and I think we can infer his status of being heroic, just by his attempting to make a go of this thing called "Life" despite the little "challenges" he's been dealt. And finally, who's to say anything about his "virility" except for his wife? My guess is that he's more than virile enough for her, and always will be, regardless of his bodily status... 'cos it's pretty much dependent on the mind more than the body, and on the heart even more than on the brain...

God bless, Take care!
-Randy in Cincy, now 49y old, with the last 26 years "disabled" by 24/7 chronic pain with cramps, spasms, and muscles that just plain won't do as they're told, and won't quit once I get 'em going, either! Throw in IBS, CFS, and insomnia/narcolepsy, and I'm the life of the party... of one. What a drag it is getting old.