I have next to me a preview copy of photographer Sally Mann’s new memoir, Hold Still. I keep turning it over, flicking through the pages. Dipping a toe in.
You may not know Sally Mann, but you probably know her photographs.
This is Mann’s daughter, Jessie. It’s a candy cigarette. Throughout her daughters’ childhood, Mann took thousands of photographs of them, many nude. They are provocative, to put it mildly. Many wondered how Mann could take such photos, view her children as if her eyes mimicked the dispassionate lens of a camera. But an artist is an artist. When the camera was involved, Mann’s children were her subjects only. That’s the beauty of art and of collaboration. Pre-existing relationships melt away when creativity is involved.
April’s theme at The Coven is ‘Out of Place,’ a feeling that we’ve all experienced at one time or another. Who hasn’t felt marginalised or misaligned? Who hasn’t recognised their own imperfections? Who hasn’t felt that they’re not the person they should be, the person they’re expected to be?
Sometimes, the feeling of being misplaced is general. As a Kerry woman born to an Londoner mother born to a Kerry woman born to another Londoner, I know it well enough. That feeling and I are good friends.
But if everything was perfect, if everything was in its rightful place, where would we be? There would be no questioning, no progress. There would be no art. There would be no Sally Mann.
All of this is quite strange, because I have never encountered a woman with as strong a sense of place as Sally Mann. She grew up on the same Lexington, Virginia farm where she still lives. She writes about the surrounds with tongue-rolling effusiveness and pure, undampened love; the kind of love that a person usually develops for her hometown only after she leaves it. Landscape is the third man in all of her pictures, the “animus of her artistic soul.”
But it’s OK to be out of place. Good, even. Hey, at least we’re still alive.
Maybe if you feel out of place, this can be your place. This can be our space for you. Since The Coven launched, we’ve had such a great response, not only from readers, but people wanting to write for us. Professional writers and non, everyone different, everyone with an idea. It has been heartening to see so many different women (and a smattering of men) help us to carve our names in. We hope you like what’s to come.