You may remember Sally Mann from a book of photographs published in the 1990s. The book includes a number of photographs of Mann’s children hanging out, without clothing, near the family’s cabin beside a lake. The photographs were hailed by art critics as a tremendous achievement while criticized by many, many others because they put her children on display. I rented What Remains because I was curious about how Mann’s career had developed and whether or not her adult children had mixed feelings concerning their mother’s success. The topic is brought up only once in the documentary when Mann mentions that she doesn’t want her new photographs to be promoted by using the old work and that the photographs of her children were her children’s legacy. By some weird logic, this statement seemed to be the right thing to say.
What I liked most about What Remains was watching an artist whom I thought I disliked—hated, actually—win me over with her tenacity and craftsmanship. She’s a wonderful film photographer, and she’s led a fascinating life.