ARCHIVE: South x Southeast photomagazine, August 2011 …


Erasing Sally Mann by Maude Schuyler Clay
Erasing Sally Mann by Maude Schuyler Clay



Sally Mann came to visit me in Mississippi in the year 2000. We traveled around for several days, and she shot many 8×10’s of the Delta landscape, which ended up in her Deep South project. Ten years later, in September, 2010, she sent me one of her landscape prints of a catfish pond, taken near the Tallahatchie River in 2000. 

I have received several of these over the years from just about every project she ever worked on (Immediate Family, Deep South, What Remains, etc.).  The prints she sends are ones she cannot use for exhibition purposes and Sally often writes letters on the back of these  prints. They are generally folded and mailed. She calls them her real throwaway prints. The last one I received, a 20 x 24 inch fiber print, had a particularly strong smell of fixative so, initially, I hung it out on the backyard clothesline to get rid of the smell. It stayed out there for a day or two, and with the threat of an impending rainstorm, I was going to bring it in. Then I thought, “Why not leave it out in the elements and see how long it takes to deteriorate?” I have always been interested in the process of natural erosion of buildings, signs, and sculptures, but had never tried leaving an actual photograph out in the elements to see how long it would take to turn back into a blank sheet of paper. 

I was inspired by Robert Rauschenberg’s 1953 experiment of erasing a Willem de Kooning drawing, which is now in the San Francisco Museum of Art. The piece is basically a white sheet of paper that Rauschenberg erased from a drawing (conte crayon, charcoal, pencil, and oil paint, I believe) of de Kooning’s.  Rauschenberg said it took him about three months to erase it. It is titled “Erased de Kooning Drawing,” and is signed by Rauschenberg.

For my final project, I would display the actual Sally Mann 20 x 24 landscape in its eroded form. (I may also ask Sally for a pristine exhibition print of this same print to display alongside the eroded one.) As I have been documenting the Sally Mann print as it deteriorates, I would include my prints of that process. I think I will have around 10 or 15 prints. I am  9 months (a gestation period) into this project and Sally’s print, due to the elements, is slowly disappearing, reversing itself back into a white piece of paper.

This story is to be continued….

Maude S. Clay

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