About the Contributors #12

October 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

The beginning of this year brought a new Editor to 21st Editions, John Stauffer. John’s credentials are numerous (a tenured Harvard Professor with 15 books, more than 100 articles, scholarly awards, and much more). He continues to offer a rich historical context for the photographs and artists represented in many 21st Editions titles.


Todd Webb: New York, 1946

When Todd Webb arrived in New York in November 1945, Henry Luce’s famous prophecy, uttered five years earlier, that the U.S. would become the “leader of the world” and launch an “American century,” seemed to have been realized. The war had made America rich and powerful while decimating much of Europe, and artists flocked to its cultural center. There was now talk that New York might replace Paris as the world center of art and culture, as Serge Guilbaut has noted. But “it was important to find the right image for America and its culture,” which would “mirror the experience of [the] age.” This image would need to resonate with the formal and ideological sensibilities of New York and the U.S., as well as the rest of the art world. In painting, abstract expressionism would become that image. Jackson Pollock’s seemingly random drips of paint evoked an existential angst that mirrored the “experience of the age.”

In photography, the idea and image of the city became the symbol of the new postwar world. In 1946 alone, Webb shared the streets of New York with Helen Levitt (with whom he sometimes photographed), Berenice Abbott, André Kertész, Minor White, Gordon Parks, Aaron Siskind, Paul Strand, Andreas Feininger, Weegee, Dan Weiner, and Sid Grossman.6 Unlike his peers, Webb was comparatively new to photography; he called his arrival in New York “the beginning of my career in photography.” Several people, including Paul Strand and Roy Stryker (for whom he eventually worked), advised him to go back home to a “safe” job inDetroit. “How lucky I was to refuse [their] advice.”

How lucky we are as well. Alfred Stieglitz, Webb’s mentor and friend, was right: there is in Webb’s New York photographs a tenderness without sentimentality that set him apart from his peers. As Stieglitz knew, photographers tended to portray New York as hardboiled or ironic or lyrical or messy, but never with tenderness. The word was not then associated with the city. (It rarely is today.)

There is also in Webb’s New York a sense of regenerative exuberance that stemmed partly from the war. Following the allied victory in Europe and the liberation of millions of prisoners from Hitler’s fallen Reich, people throughout the West began to hope for a unified world (“One World”) devoted to peace, freedom, and harmony among nations. But the exuberance did not last. Visions of “One World” vanished after Hiroshima, the rise of Soviet aggression, and the specter of a third world war. As a result, 1945 ended on “a mixed note of gratitude and anxiety,” as Ian Buruma notes. People had “fewer illusions about a glorious future and growing fears about an increasingly divided world.” They wanted above all to get on with their own lives. “During a worldwide war, everywhere matters. In times of peace, people look to home.” Todd Webb’s New York is a symbol of America’s home in the wake of war, in which people have retained their faith “One World.”


Imogen Cunningham: Family

Cunningham knew that women faced formidable social and economic barriers…but she also recognized that as a profession, photography was comparatively open to women. Not only was there the force of Käsebier, but Jessie Tarbox Beals and Frances Benjamin Johnston were prominent photojournalists, and the San Francisco Pictorialist Annie Brigman had recently been published in Camera Work. Indeed women had played important roles in photography from its inception. Constance Fox Talbot, Henry’s wife, was one of the very first photographers; Nancy Hawes hand-tinted Southworth and Hawes’ daguerreotypes; and Julia Margaret Cameron was among the nineteenth-century’s most accomplished portraitists. Before the Civil War there were thirty-nine professional women photographers on the west-coast alone. “Photography is the democratic art,” Cunningham said in her manifesto, because it depicted “the life of the masses” and accepted women.

Photography’s comparative openness toward women was due to several factors. There were few barriers to entry; start-up expenses were modest; and the profession required no formal apprenticeship in which masters could exclude women. Then too, photography did not suffer from the myths of genre superiority that plagued painting and sculpture, whose cultural gatekeepers excluded women from exhibitions and museums.

The main argument of Cunningham’s manifesto, however, was that “women as well as men need to be granted the right of self-expression through work.” Women, like men, wanted fulfilling, creative professions without having to sacrifice marriage and “the care and rearing of children.” Cunningham no doubt imagined herself eventually marrying and having children while remaining devoted to her profession. Photography was in this sense an ideal profession, and it could have “an enlarging effect upon the home.” Why? Because “being devoted to one’s work is much like hearing a great Wagnerian opera with one’s soul open. The energy and vitality of life seems for a time sapped but comes back in renewed quantity and quality.”

…It was as if Cunningham’s manifesto/artist statement prepared her for what was soon to come. Two years after publishing it, she married Roi Partridge, an accomplished etcher. Ten months later, in December 1915, she gave birth to their first child, Gryffyd, followed by twins, Rondal and Padraic, in 1917. Partridge did not share her New Woman values; he taught art at Mills College while also creating his own art, and rarely contributed to childcare. And so for the next decade and more, Cunningham heroically juggled career and motherhood by focusing on subjects at home: her children and the plants in her garden. In this she became a model for subsequent generations of female photographers (one thinks especially of Sally Mann’s Immediate Family).


Southern Landscape

Mann’s photographs, especially her landscapes, are also intimately connected to her Southern identity. In her Massey lectures she emphasized that we cannot understand her art without acknowledging her Southerness. “Maybe nothing so engages the Southern heart as a good piece of family land,” she said, referring to herself. Born and bred in Lexington, Virginia, she lives with her husband Larry on a farm partly inherited from her father, and she has said that she will be buried there as well. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson are also buried in Lexington. Mann was born in Jackson’s home, and one of her early photographic projects was to restore, print, and file glass negatives of Michael Miley, who is known as “General Lee’s photographer.” Lee and Jackson are of course the twin gods of Southern memory, a kind of Father-Son duo. Their “last meeting” before Jackson was killed at Chancellorsville, with Lee astride “Traveller” and Jackson on “Little Sorrel,” is an iconic image, among the most popular Southern historical prints. You might say, then, that Lexington, Sally Mann’s home, is the Jerusalem of the South.

Perhaps it is no wonder that Sally Mann is drawn, both in her images and the literature she reads, to the gothic, with its eccentrics, its haunting, and its unruly landscapes. “I think the South depends on its eccentrics,” she has said, and she considers herself one of them. Her work undermines prevailing platitudes, from perceptions of children to the South’s “Lost Cause,” which ignores the horrors of slavery and Jim-Crow segregation and presents the Old South as a utopian paradise. She named her son Emmett, in part after the young Emmett Till, whose lynching in 1955 sent shock waves throughout the country, exposing the savagery of Southern segregation; and she photographed the spot where Till’s body had been dumped into the Tallahatchie River. She aptly revised Flannery O’Connor’s understanding of the South as “Christ-haunted”: “I say it’s death-haunted.” It is haunted by (among other things) the deaths of slaves, the deaths of its white men during the Civil War, and the deaths of lynching victims during Jim-Crow segregation. And she is explicit in connecting her photographs of the Southern landscape to the South’s haunted past: “The pictures I took on those awestruck, heartbreaking trips down south were pegged to the familiar corner posts of my conscious being: memory, loss, time, and love”…

#5/16 Sally Mann

April 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

21st Editions is now celebrating sixteen years of The Art of the Book! In this series of sixteen emails we are sharing with you a chronology of highlights, events and stories from the beginning of our unique publishing endeavor up until now. We hope you enjoy them.

In one of the first conversations John Wood and I had about who he we would like to publish he asked me who I wanted to work with, above all others. I looked at him with my head tipped, as if he already knew, and we simultaneously announced to each other, “Sally Mann,” of course. It wasn’t until 2002, however, that Sally agreed to work with us, initially for Volume V of The Journal of Contemporary Photography. Then, in 2003, we started to hash out with Sally what proved to be one of the most successful Platinum Series monographs from 21st Editions, Sally Mann, winner of a 2005 Lucie Award.

What excited John (and me) was the possibility of publishing, with this early pre-family body of work, Sally’s poetry. John thought she was a very fine poet and it took some convincing. Her stance was modest and firm, but not completely unwavering. After all, Sally’s poetry had never been published and hasn’t been since, but she trusted John and I believe was happy she did.


Grateful and excited to follow up Sally Mann with Southern Landscape, we enlisted John Stauffer, one of Harvard University’s leading scholars to write the text to accompany 14 of Sally’s yet unpublished landscapes from her Deep South series. Stauffer, whose expertise as an abolitionist scholar, brought a deep understanding of the history of place in the South, and particularly the locations of Sally’s focus. One year prior to John writing his deeply poetic and elucidating text, he invited Sally to Harvard as the speaker and guest for the acclaimed Massey Lecture Series. John recounts that it was the first time in his history at Harvard that he witnessed a standing ovation for the speaker.   

“Southern Landscape” Shipping Soon

March 10, 2014 § Leave a comment



Living in the South means being both nourished and wounded by the experience. To identify a person as a Southerner is always to suggest not only that her history is inescapable and profoundly formative, but that it is also imperishably present. Southerners live at the nexus between myth and reality where that peculiar amalgam of sorrow, humility, honor, loyalty, graciousness and renegade defiance plays out against a backdrop of profligate physical beauty.

In this new age of finance, digital technology, and quick surface effects, Sally Mann’s photographs are our evangels of the eye, enabling us to walk more gladly and lightly. Confronting her work is like discovering a new, mysterious and beautiful world. It oµers a way to redeem a society that is in decline from greed and pettiness. For like other truly great and enduring artists, she has remained faithful to the love of craft, only using technology in the service of her eye and aesthetic, creating beauty and re-enchanting the world.

We let the remarkable, ordinary wonders of living slip into the oblivion of memory, but they are the very moments Sally Mann lovingly records, resurrects, and returns to us. I would not be surprised if at the moment of our deaths the last thoughts that flicker before our consciousness look like photographs by Sally Mann, and I will be disappointed if mine do not.

Sally Mann’s “Southern Landscape” is in production

December 5, 2013 § 2 Comments

Sally Mann’s “Southern Landscape” is in production. Hand-coated prints made with platinum, palladium, and gold exemplify the classic printing processes 21st Editions is known for publishing. Letterpress on handmade sheets and individually sewn and hand-crafted bindings all are a tribute to these time honored processes that together lead to exceptional offerings.


Near Afton Villa

August 20, 2013 § Leave a comment


“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

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

“…ordinary wonders of living…”

July 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

Pontchartrain, from Southern Landscape

Pontchartrain, from Southern Landscape

“We let the remarkable, ordinary wonders of living slip into the oblivion of memory, but they are the very moments Sally Mann lovingly records, resurrects, and returns to us. I would not be surprised if at the moment of our deaths the last thoughts that flicker before our consciousness look like photographs by Sally Mann, and I will be disappointed if mine do not.”

John Wood

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