Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Sally Mann effect

I was finally able to see the Sally Mann exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts this afternoon with Rebecca. Do yourself a favor and go as soon as humanly possible. It's haunting, it's eerie, it's touching, it'll change the way you think about photography. Beautiful, beautiful work. I am so glad I got to see it in person.

Her thoughts and approach to death and decay are so honest and real, it's really quite jarring to see a person so comfortable with decomposition. Seeing some of the images, especially the photographs she took while she visited the Body Farm, an area where human bodies decompose out in the open for forensic study, were difficult for me as I am quite the opposite of Mann in that death and dying have always made me uneasy. There was one image in particular that made my skin crawl.

There were a group of 6 smaller, color photographs that made my hair stand on end, but when I got to one that showed a giant cluster of maggots consuming a person's half eaten face, my tongue began to tingle in the back of my throat as if maggots were crawling in my own mouth, my stomach and throat began to retch, and my eyes stung and began to water. I closed my eyes and turned away.

maggots in the toilet, maggots in the toilet
the smell, the god awful smell

It took a minute for me to regain my strength to carry on and open my mind back up to viewing the decay that had hit so close to home.

I've seen cardboard boxes dissolve and become food for fungus. I've seen mold grow on every conceivable item of food. I've seen cat poop turn fuzzy. I've seen the pinks and the greens, the greys and the blacks of fungi. I've breathed in and smelled the simultaneous natural and unnatural smells of the airborne spores of these organisms that inhabited the same space I did for a decade. And yes, I've seen the undulations of maggots feeding off of feces in my toilet.

Just the thought of it all makes me itchy, sink my nails into my scalp and scratch uncontrollably. I want to jump into a scolding hot shower and scrub until my skin is red and inflamed, ensuring I've reached another layer. How did my teenage self endure such trials?

Living with the decay was worse than dying.

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