Sunday, February 20, 2011

Photographer Sally Mann on art, love and her husband's muscular dystrophy

The intro to story on NPR:

Photographer Sally Mann's work is rooted in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, among the rolling hills of Rockbridge County, where she grew up. She shares her 425-acre farm with five dogs and four well-loved Arabian horses faithfully fed each morning by her husband, Larry Mann, a blacksmith and a lawyer.

If you know Mann's work, you might remember her startling photos of her children that caused a stir during the culture wars of the early '90s. The kids were smudged with dirt, often naked, looking feral. The children are grown now, and the notoriety of those photos has faded over the years.

Mann is now considered one of the most influential photographers of her time.

Some of Mann's most recent work is focused on Larry, her husband of 40 years (pictured).

They married when she was just 19. He was 22.

"We were blind with love," Sally says. "He was so good looking. He was tall and he looked so capable."

Sally turns to Larry. "You looked useful and strong."

"Deceptive," he says.

"Oh, no, no, you were useful and strong," she says. "You still are."

Sally has a piercing turquoise gaze, her graying-brown hair pulled back into a loose ponytail. Larry towers over her. He's rugged, with a solid frame, and you realize, watching him move about the farm, that he's got a pronounced hitch in his step.

About 15 years ago, Larry was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. Slowly, he's been losing muscle, mostly in his right leg and left arm.

"Something I could do easily months ago, all of a sudden I find I can't do as well," he says. "Going up stairs is getting increasingly difficult. The [biceps] in my left arm is gone now completely."

When asked if the atrophy is limited to his limbs, he says he doesn't really know.

"Some forms of muscular dystrophy can affect the heart," he says. "So at some point, I'll probably have to do some other tests, like an echocardiogram."

Mann interjects — she says, "Let's not do that."

"The doctor said, 'Why don't we check out your heart.' But wouldn't it be worse to know than to not know?" she says. "I mean, there's nothing you can do about it. I think I'd rather you just fall off the perch than worry about you falling off the perch. Ignorance is bliss in this case."

Larry laughs a little. "I agree," he says. "Absolutely."