+ MOUNTAIN LAKE WORKSHOP
Sally Mann is one of America’s most renowned photographers. She has received numerous awards, including NEA, NEH, and Guggenheim Foundation grants, and her work is held by major institutions internationally. Her many books include At Twelve (1988), Immediate Family (1992), Still Time (1994), What Remains (2003), Deep South (2005), Proud Flesh (2009), The Flesh and the Spirit (2010), Remembered Light (2016) and Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings (2018). In 2001 Mann was named “America’s Best Photographer” by Time magazine. In 2011, she and her daughter, Jesse, along with laser artist Liz Liguori, joined the Mountain Lake Workshop as part of "The Metempsychosis and Three Graces Workshops: Taking Photography in New Directions Through Collaboration."
METEMPSYCHOSIS: "MET HIM WHAT?"
By Ray Kass
Metempsychosis: I first encountered this marvelous word in a modern literary masterpiece, James Joyce’s Ulysses; Joyce’s terse definition follows on an inquiry by Molly Bloom to Leopold Bloom: She swallowed a draught of tea from her cup held by not-handle and, having wiped her fingertips smartly on the blanket, began to search the text with the hairpin till she reached the word.
– Met him what? he added.
– Here, she said. What does that mean?
He leaned downward and read near her polished thumbnail.
– Yes. Who’s he when he’s at home?
– Metempsychosis, he said, frowning. It’s Greek: from the Greek. That means the transmigration of souls.
– O, rocks! she said. Tell us in plain words.1
The “transmigration of souls,” and the sense of random searching, if not adventure, inspired by Joyce’s reinvention of an ancient tale as a modern classic, guided me in organizing a collaborative Mountain Lake Workshop in which Sally and Jessie Mann (mother and daughter) and laser artist Liz Liguori made paintings on laser-exposed photographic paper, and then literally painted over a selection Sally Mann’s famous landscape photographs. The works are diptychs that announce a new collaborative identity and a cosmological universe that the artists declare as their world.
1 James Joyce, Ulysses (New York: The Modern Library, Random House, 1934), pp. 64–65
THE METEMPSYCHOSIS AND THREE GRACES WORKSHOPS:
TAKING PHOTOGRAPHY IN NEW DIRECTIONS THROUGH COLLABORATION
By Jesse Mann
By reaching across disciplines and communities of practice, ideas gain in relevance and translational traction. The Mountain Lake Workshop is a wonderful way to make this sort of collaboration and translation possible, not only between artists, but also between artists and communities. The “Metempsychosis” and “Three Graces”1 workshops brought together people from amazingly diverse backgrounds—artists working in different types of media including photography as well as non-artists. The work that came of these workshops would not have been possible without this collaborative opportunity. On a very basic, functional level, the work is large and the process to produce it requires many hands and coordinated cooperation, something that would not have been possible without a mechanism to support this level of group activity. On a more ephemeral level, the work wouldn’t be what it is without the psychic contributions of the diverse team that brought it to fruition. Furthermore, the work would be impoverished in meaning without the involvement of the community at large. With sharing of the inspirational process across communities and between people, the meaning and purpose of this work, and of artwork in general, become enriched.
The work that came from these workshops is an effort at combination and transmutation. The process that was explored brings many of the principles of American Abstract Expressionist painting into the realm of photography. Art critic Clement Greenberg outlined the hallmarks of Abstract Expressionism saying “if the label ‘Abstract Expressionism’ means anything, it means painterliness: loose, rapid handling , or the look of it; masses that blotted and fused instead of shapes that stayed distinct; large and conspicuous rhythms; broken color; uneven saturations . . . ; exhibited brush, knife, or finger marks. . . .”2
The work executed in the workshops is an attempt to re-create these elements but with photographic processes rather than paint. It is a rediscovery of the elements of photography, employed toward an “abstract expressionist” end. In the groundbreaking abstract images of Aaron Siskind (1903–1991), photography was reborn as an abstract medium. The photographic images that came out of these two Mountain Lake workshops, but especially the “electromagnetograms” (as we have come to call them) that came out of the Metempsychosis workshop, expand upon some of the same methods Siskind introduced in his own work in an effort to explore the essence of the medium of photography independent of realistic narrative, in the same way the Abstract Expressionist artists explored the essence of painting free of realistic narrative.3 The electromagnetogram is an effort at isolating light, surface, saturation, and rhythm in the manner of Abstract Expressionism. In this case, we are using photo chemicals and lasers as a means to paint with light instead of pigment.
Collaboration with my mother, Sally Mann, on this project using the abstract expressionist nature of the electromagnetograms allowed us to explore a latent and, I feel, an often overlooked expressionism in her work. I have long believed she has taken photography into the realm of Abstract Expressionism by emphasizing the surface, the mark, and the accident in her work.
Our collaboration allowed me to explore the overlap between photography and painting, so often held up as contrasts to each other. My mother’s work has always been defined by the photographic printing process and, like abstract painting, addresses process as much as, if not more than, representation. And more generally, photography, particularly non-digital photography, is increasingly playing with chance effects, distressed surfaces, texture, and the “exhibited finger mark.” This collaboration became a wonderful way to make that shift from photograph-as-representation-of-reality to photograph-as-signifier-of-process explicit, to directly address the meaning afforded the photographic process now that digital photography has taken over historical and documentary functions, the very functions traditional “wet” photography once wrested from painting. By using photo chemicals as paint, by deconstructing the photographic process, and by using light and chance in new ways, it was possible to address directly the abstraction that my mother’s work so brilliantly flirts with.
Furthermore, in terms of collaborations, in the same way that some of the most important scientific discoveries come from collaborations across disciplines, so too for art. It can take a lifetime of steady work to master one medium or area of study, and to bring together diverse practitioners, each with years of practice and focus, creates a synergy the result of which is much greater than the sum of the parts that compose it. The national scientific grant structure is increasingly favoring trans-disciplinary proposals, and the Mountain Lake Workshop is the artistic equivalent of this effort, but one which has been in existence, well ahead of the intellectual curve, for decades. Without these efforts and the support this workshop provides, it is hard to even contemplate the intellectual impoverishment we would suffer. It was a great honor to be involved in such an extraordinary and prescient support structure, and I, for one, look forward with great anticipation to the synergies and collaborations that will come of it in the years to come.
1 The latter is described in Sam Krisch’s essay in this chapter, “Three Graces in Public: Digital Montages.”
2 Clement Greenberg, “After Abstract Expressionism,” in Clement Greenberg, The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 4, Modernism with a Vengeance, 1957–1969, edited by John O’Brian (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1993), p. 123.
3 The term metempsychosis comes from the Ancient Greek and refers to the transmigration of souls and rebirth.