Monday, June 1, 2015

Hold Still

Funny how things fall into place every once in while.  Hold Still has been featured on bookseller publications and websites for months, touted as "visionary", "visceral", "pitch-perfect - the list of accolades runs long.  Still other critics have described it as "gothic", "disturbing", "stark", "hell on wheels".  Those polarized comments alone would ordinarily have drawn me to read this book, but for some reason, I kept passing it by.  

Then an abrupt announcement moved this book to the top of my list. You see, I learned that my friend Julie's cancer has progressed to a critical stage.  Julie, along with her life long companion and artist collaborator, Johnie, have brought much attention to the reality of Wisconsin life through their nationally recognized photography.  You might remember the big splash over a whimsical little pink book about Manitowoc's own aluminum Christmas trees, Season's Gleamings.  That was their book but it certainly isn't the only contribution they have made to the arts community.

Like Julie, Sally Mann is a photographer and this book is all that the critics say it is.  Mann grew up in the south and her well connected parents played host to any number of famous writers, artists and philosophers. Her world was filled with unconventional thinkers. Abstraction, ambiguity, impulsiveness and experimentation were the norm for her.  Somehow she managed to marry into a family that brought untold drama to her adult life.

In this book, which is accompanied by photographs, she tell her stories, unfrosted and unashamed.  She put into words many things I never could.  Julie frequently sends me a postcard from one of her collections, and although I connected to them, I could not identify why.  Mann's book helped me do that.  

The big story about Sally Mann was caused by the pictures she took of her kids.  Nude pictures.  To Mann, they were a natural expression of the tenderness of childhood.  Not everyone felt that way and great debates and legal discussion arose when the pictures were publicly exhibited.  I will admit I found many of them uncomfortable, but it's mainly because her son and daughter look angry in the photos she chose to include in this book.  Angry little kids - that is uncomfortable and I can't help but wonder why they seem so sullen.

This book is a memoir and as such, I accept what the author says as truth.  If this were fiction, I'd be shaking my head page after page wondering why a novelist with obvious control over structure and style would choose melodrama as her genre.  Thick book - fascinating page turner.

Julies little postcards are all tacked to a b-board in a corner of my basement where, from time to time, I commit art.  It's my own private installation of her work.  I will spend some time there tonight, in my corner, sending her strength and and wishes for bravery. Glitter on, my friend.