What else is there to see in a photograph that’s been talked about so endlessly you can picture it in your mind? This week, a month after the release of Sally Mann’s extraordinary artist’s memoir, Hold Still, and 23 years after the initial publication of Immediate Family, arrives an expanded, paper edition of the book that catapulted her career into the realm of critically lauded and publicly debated celebrity. You know the photographs, or you know of them: the practically rhapsodic images of her three children during carefree summers spent in remote corners of their Virginia farm, in the woods, down by the river; dreamy and idyllic even in their most searing moments, the “iconic picture on the cover of the three children standing there, glaring out at the world, ” as Mann has described it; or streaked with dirt and blood and swollen with bug bites, the small accidents of play. All were made on a view camera in black-and-white film and luminously printed (Mann was one of the country’s foremost darkroom printers back then and still prints her work), but what has threatened to eclipse the images themselves are not the thousand words they’re supposedly worth, but the thousands and thousands of words that have been written about them since by detractors who could not get past the fact that the children were sometimes shown wearing little or no clothes.
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