Near Afton Villa

August 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

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“Sally Mann found these plantation ruins near Afton Villa Gardens in Louisiana, close to the Mississippi border. She had been driving south on Route 61, and was in ‘that dimension of revelation and ecstasy that eludes historical time’:

The lazy shafts of Mississippi sun contributed to this sensation, illuminating vortices of cotton flies, like hundreds of slow-motion distant tornadoes alighting upon the cotton fields. . . . I found the air rich with essential protein smells, the sweet ferment of fecundity. Oncoming drivers never failed to raise a languidly welcoming hand at this stranger, not just the congenial black faces behind the wheels of the low-slung, battered old Grand Prixes and Catalinas, but also the beefy Bull Connor types in new white F-150 pickups bristling with antennas, an NRA sticker on the back window below the shotgun.

It was such a truck that came slowly across the fields to where I had discovered a burned-down ruin of a plantation house. It seemed a million miles from any paved road, so, ignoring several NO TRESPASSING signs, I had driven up to it.

‘I heard the engine cut off, the door open, and footsteps approach,’ she said:

There was a pause while I supposed a gun barrel was being raised to the part of the darkcloth where my back, given the evidence of the legs below, would be. ‘My goodness but it’s a nice day to be taking a photograph,’ the gentlest of Southern voices said.”

John Stauffer and Sally Mann,
from Southern Landscape

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Faulkner’s Rowan Oak

August 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

Sally Mann, Rowan Oak

Rowan Oak, from Southern Landscape

“Rowan Oak, the name of Faulkner’s home in Oxford, Mississippi, derives from The Golden Bough (1890), a study of myth and religion by the Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer. Frazer describes the magical powers of the rowan-tree, which warded off the evil spells of witches and gave good luck to travelers. The Golden Bough was one of Faulkner’s favorite books, and when he bought the ‘Bailey Place,’ as it was called, in 1930, he renamed it, and ordered stationery engraved with the name Rowan Oak in gothic script. He allegedly planted a rowan-tree in his yard, but it died from the heat. Now, rows of old cedars line the walkway leading up to the front door, and there are also oaks, sweetgum, and a few catalpa scattered across the twenty-nine acres.

Artists have photographed Rowan Oak for decades, from Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1947, and Martin Dain in 1963, to William Eggleston in 1990. But in Rowan Oak Sally Mann has outdone them, for her photograph evokes the magical powers of the rowan-tree. The old cedar in the foreground glows as if from within. (Mann used a portrait lens, the better to capture light, detail, and the texture of her central subject.) The tree seems animistic, endowed with a personality and a soul. It unashamedly shows its scars, which look like they came from an axe.

What gives the image such dramatic brilliance, however, is the shadowy, slender branch that approaches the cedar, like a specter from the past. The branch forms a heart–or perhaps a shield, or a noose, or even a damaged old lens. It frames the out-of-focus tree in the background, suggesting an ambiguous pax de troix, a site of ancient passion, love, and strife.”

John Stauffer, from Southern Landscape

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