Reese, by then in her 60s, was cast as Tess, a stern but loving supervisor of angels who guided a softhearted and less experienced angel, Monica Roma Downey , in helping humans at crossroads in their lives. The series told reassuring stories of forgiveness and second chances with mild irreverence. Reese contended that no career switch was involved. I want you to do this, and you can retire in 10 years.
The series lasted nine years, and she continued to act for another decade after that. Reese went public with her displeasure at being offered a Downey received a percent raise. The matter was settled the next summer with a three-year agreement that eventually increased Ms. Downey was earning. Reese to fly from the set in Utah to California every weekend for church services. In the s, Ms. Reese had been ordained as a minister by the Universal Foundation for Better Living and founded the Understanding Principles for Better Living Church , a nondenominational Christian ministry.
Sally Mann: I wish I could be a better writer, but writing is so difficult. I get seduced by visual aesthetics. Because I just like making beautiful pictures, sometimes I wander away from making a clear statement. Now that I have been working for about forty years, I can see that there is a consistent set of interests in all my work. Some of my pictures are poem-like in the sense that they are very condensed, haiku-like.
There are others that, if they were poetry, would be more like Ezra Pound. There is a lot of information in most of my pictures, but not the kind of information you see in documentary photography. There is emotional information in my photographs. I think this series was more like documentary work compared with your later series, Immediate Family , in which photograph can stand alone. With At Twelve , it makes sense to look at all the images together because they are about girls leaving childhood and entering into womanhood; these photos have social and cultural implications.
But Immediate Family feels more like fine art photography. How did you make that leap forward? As you say, with At Twelve I tried to circumscribe myself, answering just one particular question about the girls in those photographs. And I limited myself to twelve-year-olds. As for The Immediate Family , the photos were wide open. They were about the complexity of childhood. As my children grew up, each year they would have a set of new issues, from wetting the bed to pretending to be adults. So in this series the topics were open-ended, while At Twelve was mostly about just one topic.
You said that when you were young, your father told you there are three avenues for artistic expression: sex, death, and whimsy.
It seems to me that you have taken his advice and started to explore the subject of sex first. So gender may be a better word than sex.
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I agree, but there is so much more to The Immediate Family than just gender. I photographed my children almost every day. I wanted them to look natural and not posed. By contrast, the pictures in At Twelve were always very carefully posed.
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I had to make an appointment with them to go to their homes and photograph them. So they were all posed. Once, when talking about using a large-format camera to capture fleeting moments, you said that the best photos in The Immediate Family are the ones that look effortless, just like 35mm snapshots. How did you achieve those effects? My kids were so complicit and tuned in to how photography works.
They were basically actors and were willing to work with this lengthy time frame. They were so relaxed and comfortable in front of the camera. And like the one taken on Easter day, in which Jessie is showing off her new dress. That image was carefully staged. I had to ask someone to hold the dog and then let it go, and Jessie had to spread her dress out like that probably ten times. But with each exposure she did it with genuine ease and grace. You also said that sometimes it felt like the touch of an Angel when you managed to get graceful pictures. No kidding, even though it may sound too poetic.
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It felt magical when we got the very best pictures. Like The Perfect Tomato. I mean, how lucky were we that Virginia was making that little expression just as Jessie was stepping down into the light. That was just a miracle. I wanted to tell a story with a hook that catches you and holds you. But you have to make the image interesting—complex and peculiar. For example, the dog running in the Easter picture: is that a dangerous dog or a wolf?
Why is it running? And why does that man gesture that way? I want my pictures to make people think and question, even if it upsets them. What is the truth in photography? It can be told in a hundred different ways. I think truth is a layered phenomenon. There are many truths that accumulate and build up.
I am trying to peel back and explore these rich layers of truth. All truths are difficult to reach. After your works about childhood, you moved on to other subjects. What led you to take pictures of landscapes in the South of the United States? The South has its own unique issues: Why did we behave the way we did in the Civil War?
Why did the South depend so heavily on slavery? Why do we have the racial attitudes that we do? Why the sense of honor? Why the warrior spirit?
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Because many of the family pictures I took used Southern landscapes as the backdrop, it was a very easy shift for me to focus on photographing the South itself. I spent six years on exploring that topic. Deep South is one of my favorite bodies of work. You said that you have never left the South to create art, and you consider yourself a Southern artist. There is no denying that I have made most of my works in the South.
In that respect, I could be regarded as a Southern artist. Southerners are preoccupied with the past, with myth, with family, with death.
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