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PEM Celebrates Distinguished American Photographer Sally Mann and Her Compelling Vision of the South

Released May 17, 2018

Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings

On view June 30 through September 23, 2018

Save the Date: Press Preview Reception | June 28, 2018 | 5:30-7:30 PM

SALEM, MA – The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) presents the first international traveling exhibition of work by Sally Mann (b. 1951), one of the country’s most influential and distinguished photographers. For more than 40 years, Mann has made experimental, intimate and hauntingly beautiful photographs that explore such themes as the bonds of family, the nature of memory, the pull of place and the ravages of time and mortality. What unites her vision is that it is all bred of a place, the American South. Organized by the Peabody Essex Museum and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings brings together some 115 photographs, many of which have never been exhibited or published before. The exhibition reveals how Mann's relationship with her native land — a place rich in literary and artistic traditions but troubled by history — has shaped her work.


“Although she is a well-known photographer, the full range and power of Mann’s work has not received sufficient and widespread scholarly and critical attention, until now,” says Sarah Kennel, PEM’s Byrne Family Curator of Photography. “Mann’s ambition and timeliness are evident in the themes and subjects she probes in her art: memory, history, identity, landscape, culture and race. We are grateful to the artist for working so closely with us in presenting this exhibition, which reflects a careful selection of work made over the past four decades.”


The exhibition, which is organized into five sections — Family, The Land, Last Measure, Abide with Me and What Remains — opens with photographs from the 1980s, when Mann began to photograph her three children at the family's remote summer cabin on the Maury River near Mann’s hometown of Lexington, Virginia. 

Employing an 8 x 10 inch view camera, Mann collaborated with her children to create complex and imaginative scenes that refute maudlin stereotypes of childhood, offering instead unsettling visions of its complexity. Rooted in the natural environment, with its Arcadian woodlands, rocky cliffs and languid river, these carefully composed and sumptuously printed photographs also assert the inextricable link between the family and their land, and convey the sanctuary and freedom that it provided them.

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The exhibition continues in The Land with photographs of the swamplands, fields and ruined estates Mann made as she traveled across Virginia, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi in the 1990s, seeking to capture what she called “the radical light of the American South.” The pictures Mann made in Virginia glow with a tremulous light, while those further South appear more blasted and bleak, alluding to larger national histories of suffering, death and injustice. As she explored this territory, Mann also experimented with using antique lenses, high-contrast Ortho film, and the 19th-century collodion wet plate process to create evocative photographic effects, including light flares, blurs, streaks and scratches. By deliberately cultivating the artifacts of these processes, Mann created visual metaphors for the South’s history of violence, ruin and tentative rebirth. Mann then used these same techniques for her photographs of Civil War battlefields in the exhibition's third section, Last Measure. These brooding and elusive pictures evoke the land as history's graveyard, silently absorbing the blood and bones of the many thousands who perished in terrible battles across Virginia and Southern Maryland.


In the early 2000s, Mann continued to reflect on how slavery and segregation had left their mark on the landscape of Virginia and, in turn, shaped her own childhood. The fourth section, Abide with Me, explores these entwined histories. Two groups of photographs imagine the physical and spiritual pathways for African Americans in antebellum and post-Civil War Virginia: the rivers and swamps that were potential escape routes for enslaved individuals and the churches that promised safe harbor, communion, and spiritual deliverance. This section also includes photographs of Virginia Carter, the African American woman who had served as Mann’s primary caregiver. A defining and beloved presence in Mann's life, Carter taught Mann the profoundly complicated and charged nature of race relations in the South. The last component of this section is a group of pictures of African American men rendered in large prints (50 x 40 inches) made from collodion negatives. Representing the artist’s desire to reach across "the seemingly untraversable chasm of race in the American South," these powerful photographs explore Mann’s own position in relation to the fraught racial history of the region.


The final section of the exhibition, What Remains, returns to the subject of family to explore the question of what endures beyond death. A series of spectral portraits of her children's faces and intimate photographs detailing the changing body of her husband Larry, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, join riveting self-portraits Mann made in the wake of a grave riding accident. Elusive and poignant, these photographs offer moving and transcendent meditations on the universal experiences of love, loss and death.

Mann’s drive to face the big themes head on — death, war, race, love, the process of growing up — coupled with her extraordinary ability to wrest powerful emotional resonance from the materials of her art make her one of today’s most compelling photographers,

said curator Sarah Kennel. “The breadth and depth of her achievement, the seductive beauty of her photographs and her capacity to simultaneously explore the intimate and the universal reveal an artist at the apex of her powers.”


Cocktail Reception | 6 PM Remarks & Exhibition Tour | Please join us for a cocktail reception and exhibition preview of Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings with curator Sarah Kennel. RSVP to Paige Besse at

High-resolution publicity images are available for download from the following link:

Share your impressions with us on social media using #PEMsallymann

A 332-page illustrated monograph, Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings, published by the National Gallery of Art, the Peabody Essex Museum and Abrams, New York, accompanies the exhibition. This publication constitutes an in-depth exploration of the evolution of Mann's art through five sections: "Family," "The Land," "Last Measure," "Abide with Me," and "What Remains." Plate sections are enriched by the inclusion of quotations from Mann herself. Curators Sarah Kennel and Sarah Greenough analyze Mann's photographic development in essays exploring her family photographs and literary interests, as well as an overview on the development of her art. In their valuable contributions, Hilton Als, staff writer at the New Yorker and recipient of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism; Malcolm Daniel, Gus and Lyndall Wortham Curator of Photography at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and Drew Gilpin Faust, president and Lincoln Professor of History at Harvard University, explore literary and photographic responses to racism in the South; Mann's debt to 19th-century photographers and techniques; and the landscape as repository of cultural and personal memory.

National Gallery of Art, Washington, March 4–May 28, 2018
Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, June 30–September 23, 2018
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, November 20, 2018–February 10, 2019
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, March 3–May 27, 2019
Jeu de Paume, Paris, June 17 –September 22, 2019
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, October 19, 2019 –January 12, 2020

Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings is organized by the Peabody Essex Museum and the National Gallery of Art, Washington. The exhibition is made possible through a grant from The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, New York, and an important contribution from Susan Whitehead. Hunt’s Photo & Video and Canon U.S.A. are the corporate sponsors of this exhibition. Carolyn and Peter S. Lynch and The Lynch Foundation, and Susan and Appy Chandler provided generous support. We also recognize the generosity of the East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum.



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1. Sally Mann, Deep South, Untitled (Scarred Tree), 1998. Gelatin silver print. National Gallery of Art, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund.
2. R. Kim Rushing, Sally with Camera (c. 1998). Gelatin silver print. Collection of Sally Mann. Image © R. Kim Rushing.
3. Sally Mann (American, born 1951), Easter Dress, 1986, gelatin silver print, Patricia and David Schulte. Image © Sally Mann.
4. Sally Mann, (American, born 1951) Deep South, Untitled (Stick), 1998 gelatin silver print, printed 1999 New Orleans Museum of Art, Collection of H. Russell Albright, M.D.. Image © Sally Mann.
5. Sally Mann,  (American, born 1951), St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal, 2008-2016, gelatin silver print, Collection of the artist. Image © Sally Mann.
6. Sally Mann (American, born 1951), Semaphore, 2003, gelatin silver print, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum purchase, 2010.264. Image © Sally Mann.
7. Sally Mann (American, born 1951) Blackwater 25, 2008-2012, Tintype, Collection of the artist. Image © Sally Mann.

Dating to 1855, the collection tells the story of photography over one and a half centuries, helping us understand why and how pictures are made and the important role the medium has had in shaping visual culture across the world. Celebrated for rich holdings in 19th-century Asian, Native American, maritime and early American photographs, the collections also includes modern and contemporary art and represents dozens of different techniques, from daguerreotypes to inkjet prints.

The earliest photograph in the collection is a daguerreotype of the Pont Neuf in Paris and is attributed to Vincent Chevalier. Made in or close to 1839, the year that photography was introduced to the public, it entered the collection in 1858. Since that time the photography holdings have grown to encompass a significant body of early works, including daguerreotypes by pioneering photographers Antoine Claudet and the Boston-based firm Southworth & Hawes, as well as a rich collection of portraits made in New England. Several thousand 19th- and early 20th-century photographs made in China, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia, including rare prints by Lai Afong, Felice Beato, Tung Hing, Kusakabe Kimbei, Milton Miller, William Saunders and John Thomson, among others, place PEM's nineteenth-century Asian photographs collection among the finest in the world. The collection also includes significant holdings of work by Edwin Hale Lincoln, Lala Deen Dayal and Samuel Chamberlain, more than 100 extraordinary exhibition prints by Edward S. Curtis, over 200 rare Civil War photographs by Mathew Brady, and rare holdings of late 19th-century photographs made in the Pacific region.  20th century holdings include prints by Diane Arbus, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, Leonard Freed, Fan Ho, Danny Lyon, Nicholas Nixon, Arthur Rothstein, Milton Rogovin, Stephen Shore, and Edward Weston, as well as a choice group of chromogenic prints by celebrated Indian artist M.F. Husain. Contemporary works by artists Takashi Arai, Candice Breitz, Barbara Bosworth, Thomas Joshua Cooper, Binh Dahn, Laura McPhee, Olivia Parker, Mark Ruwedel, Toshio Shibata and others round out the collection.

Over the last 20 years, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) has distinguished itself as one of the fastest-growing art museums in North America. Founded in 1799, it is also the country’s oldest continuously operating museum. At its heart is a mission to enrich and transform people's lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes and knowledge of themselves and the wider world. PEM celebrates outstanding artistic and cultural creativity through exhibitions, programming and special events that emphasize cross-cultural connections, integrate past and present and underscore the vital importance of creative expression. The museum's collection is among the finest of its kind boasting superlative works from around the globe and across time -- including American art and architecture, Asian export art, photography, maritime art and history, Native American, Oceanic and African art. PEM's campus affords a varied and unique visitor experience with hands-on creativity zones, interactive opportunities and performance spaces. Twenty-four noted historic structures grace PEM’s campus, including Yin Yu Tang, a 200-year-old Chinese house that is the only such example of Chinese domestic architecture on display in the United States. HOURS: Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 am-5 pm. Closed Mondays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. ADMISSION: Adults $20; seniors $18; students $12. Additional admission to Yin Yu Tang: $6. Members, youth 16 and under and residents of Salem enjoy free general admission and free admission to Yin Yu Tang. INFO: Call 866-745-1876 or visit

Media Contacts:
Melissa Woods
| Communications Specialist | | 978-542-1609
Kristen Levesque | Exhibition Publicist |