Photographer Sally Mann shared chapters from her award-winning memoir during her Distinguished Lecture Series talk Tuesday at Memorial Union.
The novel, “Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs,” received the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction in 2016.
The photographer based her novel off her images. She confessed to the audience that she is not a writer, but her mind works in a way that connects words and pictures.
Mann’s work, consisting mainly of black-and-white images, are featured permanently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and others.
Aided by a backdrop of her photographs, she explained her unsupervised childhood and her teenage years in boarding school. She introduced her family’s servant, “Gigi,” who worked for them for 50 years. She concluded this segment of her life with tales of her road trip through the South that allowed her to learn about the region as both a place and an identity, and exposed the remaining shadows of African-American slavery.
“I weep for the great heart of the South,” Mann said, quoting her book. “The flawed, human art.”
Following the reading, Mann took questions from audience members, when she discussed her struggle with self-doubt. She cited this as a good measure of her work’s quality.
“It’s hard to make work that I’m completely confident in,” Mann said. “But when you do something good you’re so profoundly grateful.”
She has earned honors for her photographic work, including “America’s Best Photographer” by Time Magazine in 2001. She was also awarded the honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Corcoran Museum and the National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artist Fellowship.
Mann ended with words of advice to aspiring biographical photographers.
“Live an ordinary life to make extraordinary art,” Mann said. “And always be working on something better than what you just put out to the world.”