In her series “Last Measures,” Sally Mann visit battle sites from the American Civil War. Antietam, Manassas, Fredericksberg—one hundred fifty years ago these were locales of great violence. Mann documents what time has given us: a bare, quietly haunted landscape.
Mann used a collodion wet plate process which meant the pictures had to be developed almost immediately after their capture. Conceived and charged in place. This allowed for a variety of flaws—scratches and blurs, starry ghosts, the skin of the image peeled back at the corners.
It was, in fact, the same process used by Brady and Gardner in their Civil War photographs. Once revered as a forefather of photojournalism, some of Gardner’s images were later revealed to have been staged or otherwise manipulated.
Which brings us to another seam where Mann meets these gentlemen across the ages: what is the nature of reportage? Mann’s work is dark and painterly, the stuff of elegy. Looking at these photographs, one feels a great lament that war exists at all—but also a romanticism, hard to pin down. The idea of a tragic South is a tired one but Mann avoids the stereotypes, as always, with poetry.
Not the florid stuff, but smoldering.