I began downloading some photography documentaries and watching them. I do not enjoy them as much as a photography book, mostly because I can't stop and just look at the picture without the narrative changing my viewing. But I do find them fascinating to get to know the photographers themselves.
Speaking about yourself and your art is never easy. Effectively we are seeing the image of the person they want us to see, but occasionally we get a little peak behind the mask and walk away with a bit more insight into the photographers we love.
And so it is in "What Remains", a documentary about Sally Mann. I first saw a photograph of hers back in 1999 or so. I was in New Orleans and I walked into a gallery to see a mixed set of prints by different photographers. I remember seeing these half naked kids looking like they were in a dream. The image impacted me but it bothered me as well. This is long before I had kids of my own, hence I considered nudity of any type from a single perspective. Only after seeing the joy and freedom my kids had when very young did I begin to see that picture in a different light.
What Remains is a biographical documentary where Sally does most of the talking. You get glimpses into their family dynamic and are left wondering how it must all work. This is not a critical contemplation but a true curiosity which comes from seeing another persons life and trying to understand it.
You see Sally speak with such pride in her work she seems unstoppable. But then you see one of her projects get rejected from a New York gallery and you see the timid, delicate side of Sally. The fact that the documentary captured both extremes so very well is one reason this is one of my favorite photography documentary.
The second reason I like it so much is that they mix footage from the 1990's with their latest fillings. This gives us a chance to see Sally working on three very different projects, one about her family, one about landscapes and finally one about death and decay.
The final reason I like this documentary is that it shows her working. Few documentary spend more than a few minutes of B roll on the photographer at their work. What Remains spends a great deal more time showing how she works.
The film quality is great, the insights are interesting and the human element of pain, enjoyment, desease and family all come through. It will leave you with more insight into how the photographer views her own work. One thing is for sure, you will not see a Sally Mann picture the same way again.
Patrick...confirmed film & digital photography addict.