Before the invention of photography, significant moments in the flow of our lives would be like rocks placed in a stream: impediment that demonstrated but didn’t diminish the volume of the flow and around which accrued the debris of memory, rich in sight, smell, taste, and sound. No snapshot can do what the attractive mnemonic impediment can: when we outsource that work to a camera, our ability to remember is diminished and what memories we have are impoverished (p 301).
When Mrs. Mann was asked to deliver the Massey Lectures in the History of American Civilization, Sally turned to the boxes in her attic where she discovered a wealth of information about her family. Those boxes, containing journals, notes, old report cards, photos, etc., prompt further investigation, a re-examining of her youth, and a stellar memoir.
Divided into four sections, Sally tackles Place (growing up and then raising her children in beautiful Virginia), her mother, her caretaker Gee-Gee (and Race), and her father (with his Death obsession). All are well-written and sensational enough for hollywood, though Sally’s perspective is always tempered and circumspect. She is quick to point out photography’s failings (see the quote above) though her own photographs are a pleasure.
I was unaware of Sally Mann’s work prior to reading this memoir but I shall be on the lookout for her photography and her writing in future.