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Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  6,879 ratings  ·  888 reviews
A revealing and beautifully written memoir and family history from acclaimed photographer Sally Mann.

In this groundbreaking book, a unique interplay of narrative and image, Mann's preoccupation with family, race, mortality, and the storied landscape of the American South are revealed as almost genetically predetermined, written into her DNA by the family history that prece
Hardcover, 482 pages
Published May 12th 2015 by Little, Brown and Company
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Dot It's an excellent audiobook. Just load the PDF files on your computer to view later. …moreIt's an excellent audiobook. Just load the PDF files on your computer to view later. (less)
This question contains spoilers... (view spoiler)
Jessica Blair I could not agree more she is a brilliant photographer who should be celebrated not controversial. Her memoir is a pleasure to read very interesting l…moreI could not agree more she is a brilliant photographer who should be celebrated not controversial. Her memoir is a pleasure to read very interesting life she lived as a child and adolescent.i love. Her portrayal of Gigi.(less)

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Matt Barr
Feb 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In all honesty, as a fan of Sally Mann I anticipated this being given 4-stars before I ever read a single page. It got a rare (for me) 5-stars because it exceeded my expectations in every way. This book has the sort of whimsical feral aura of Jeanette Walls's The Glass Castle while at the same time rich in substance and background information about Mann's more well known photography. Well written, a testament to Bennington College where my favorite writer (Donna Tartt) also studied approximately ...more
For me this was a treat to experience a photographer I admire looking back at her life to try to identify the influences on her identity and craft in the rural geography and community of her home in Lexington, Virginia, and the diverse threads of heritage from various branches of her family. Her narration of her account in the audiobook version made this experience personal and more powerful. This version and the ebook one comes with a pdf file of several hundred images to illustrate her story, ...more
Sep 17, 2016 rated it did not like it
I didn't like this book and I didn't like Sally Mann. It was the most boring book I have read in a long time. First of all, she really puts a great emphases on how smart she supposedly is. She includes notes from elementary, high school and college teachers. Pardon me while I yawn.

This book is interspersed with photos, copies of notes and letters, and anything Mann throws in to make herself look good. Her notoriety comes from the nude photos she took of her children growing up. Many people fou
May 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
While reading, still at the beginning:
I am enjoying this a lot. At the same time I am upset. Why? Because the audibook includes a PDF file with more than 400 photos. What is VERY annoying is that the PDF file does not work correctly. I can only see 12 photos, and these photos I know now were not part of this book. Audible says they will fix it, but when? I was told that others have run into the same problem. This is a warning to other readers. As you listen the author tells you to look at parti
Jun 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
It's entirely unfair that such a unique visual artist is also a superb writer, but such is life. Read this for its striking and original verbal imagery, its honesty and wit, and for the bizarre, stranger-than-fiction family stories. Mann is fearless, staring beauty and decay, life and death, eye to eye--well, eye to lens, anyway. The gorgeous photos will send you straight to her collected photos. ...more
Feb 24, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

A friend recommended I read the introduction to this, saying she didn’t feel as if I necessarily needed to read further. So that was my intention; but I continued on as I was drawn into Mann’s vague, though (deservedly) sensationalistic descriptions of what she found in the family archives stored in her attic.

With photos to illustrate, Mann writes of the place she lives in; her career; and the stories of her (and some of her husband’s) ancestors. Some of these people were important to histo
Sep 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
“Exploitation lies at the heart of every great portrait, and all of us know it.”

Sally Mann has an unflinching gaze, which is perhaps a photographer’s most valuable asset. She doesn’t look away from anything, and this bold, occasionally discomfiting trait has served her well. I’ve always loved her work, and I sincerely enjoyed this creative, photo-illustrated memoir. Along with being a gifted photographer, Mann is also a skillful writer. She writes so well about her family, her loves, and her art
Jul 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir-biography
Sally Mann is an artist who unsettles - though this memoir stands as proof that she does not intend it.

You may remember several years ago the surface of a series of photographs she'd taken of her children in which they appeared unclothed. That project caused an uproar, and the backlash of judgment and vitriol surprised her. It's easy to see why when accorded the context of her upbringing. Ms. Mann, herself, had a childhood aversion to clothes and spent most of her formative years running around
Jan 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
A Southern Gothic memoir in all senses of the word, Sally Mann's turbulent life makes for fascinating reading. Stalkers, convicts, the civil rights movement,and any number of crazy dogs and relatives are part of her story, and her photos, liberally sprinkled throughout the book, are even better with their context explained. As a small girl, she was both an intelligent and feral child, brought up by cultured parents of a generation that hired African-American domestic help to raise their children ...more
Betsy Robinson
Jul 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Earthy, fierce, sensual, and elegant—that is the nature of this person, the gorgeous writing, and also, it seems, the nature of the American South, as expressed by photographer Sally Mann in her stunning autobiography. Just like the cover which shows a child “holding still” mid-jump, surrounded by sky, the writing manages to simultaneously move and hold you.

Sally Mann and I are the same age, we occupied the same territory for a time (same class at Bennington), but I don’t recall knowing her. If

Hold Still is the 9th book by photographer Sally Mann. It is in part memoir and part memoriam. Inspired by an invitation by Harvard University to deliver the prestigious Massey lectures, she finds herself rooting through the family attic. The Massey lectures herald a host of esteemed honorees that include Eudora Welty (1984), Toni Morrison (1992), Gore Vidal (1992), and E. L. Doctorow (2003). What Mann finds while in that attic shakes loose not only a proud heritage, but also historical fruit pi
Fred Forbes
As a serious photographer I was drawn to this book since I was familiar with the controversy surrounding her photographs of her children enjoying life on their Virginia farm in the nude. Critics thought the poses of her young children were too suggestive which I thought was a bit ridiculous since the kids were far ahead of the age of even knowing what that means. At any rate, I was really impressed with the quality of the writing at the beginning, less so as the book moved on. I liked the format ...more
Oct 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Exceptionally good, and way better than I anticipated. Not often an artist great in one medium is also so talented in another.
May 25, 2015 rated it liked it
While Mann is a good writer, interesting person, and accomplished photographer, I found myself skimming to get through this. First of all, it didn't feel like a memoir, but an autobiography - it covers most of her life, as well as many accounts of other people (some of them having little or nothing to do with what she's writing about). It felt too extensive and broad, tedious at times. I wish she had been able to narrow the focus to a particular period of her life, or to her work, or her marriag ...more
Aly Medina
Jun 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely adored this beautiful, poetically written book that covers so many different subjects. All should read it, as it does not simply appeal to photographers. This is a truly phenomenal read.
Jennifer Didik
Mar 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely gorgeous. Intelligent. Insightful. Even the parts I found to be less engrossing I respect enormously.
Jun 23, 2016 rated it liked it
Sometimes wonderful and sometimes a slog. Maddeningly overwrought in parts. I know my opinion won't be popular. Sorry. ...more
Robert Blumenthal
Jun 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is both a memoir and a book of photographs. It appears to be a lot longer than it is for much of it is photos. I had never heard of this photographer before, and I found both her photographs and her writing to be luminous. Actually, many of the photos were taken by other people (her dad, for instance), and because of the small size and graininess of the paper, it is hard to completely appreciate them. As I was reading I was inspired to put a couple of her books of photographs on hold at my ...more
Jan 15, 2016 rated it liked it
glad I read the book. It's kind of unbelievable that anyone has such an "interesting" cast of characters for their (and their spouse's) ancestors; that part was engrossing.

Some of the book, though, was a little photography-technical heavy for me; I wasn't interested in those sections and I skimmed those parts. I'm sure those who know her for her photography would appreciate Mann's descriptions of it and the process of development.

Maybe it's my eyesight, but I thought the pictures inside the bo
Nov 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Ms. Sally Mann’s Hold Still began with me holding grudges. I had long since forgotten why I had bought it and I had just finished another memoir by a woman. I ended that one dissatisfied with how she related to her world. The expectation was that Ms. Mann would be another example of a woman with an overly self-centered world view.
I was wrong.

The writing of autobiography or memoirs is an exercise in egotism. As a longtime fan of this kind of book I tend to make allowances. Ms. Mann certainly has
Jul 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
I full-on loved more than half of famed (and imo very talented) photographer Sally Mann's memoir, was significantly less engaged with the other, less-than-half, but because it's not a consecutive thing (even within chapters I could drift in and out), you have to read the entirety of Hold Still to get to all the good parts. Not that the book's a slog, I just wish Mann had spent less time on her father and long-dead relatives and more time on her feelings, her personal experiences, and her creativ ...more
Jun 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015-read

Honestly, I didn't really know anything about Sally Mann when I picked this off the Library New shelf, but I remembered Ann Patchett had said good things about it on her bookstore blog, and that was good enough for me to check it out of the library and give it a try. Here's what Patchett had to say specifically: "In Hold Still, Sally Mann demonstrates a talent for storytelling that rivals her talent for photography. The book is riveting, ravishing — diving deep into family history to find the or
Apr 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Wanting to know the why of her “family pictures” I selected this book when I saw it on the library shelves. Not much light was shed on this, but I did come to appreciate Sally Mann as both a writer and a photographer with more depth than shown in the pictures that brought her fame. Using both her photography and literary skills, she has given us a portrait not only of her life, but also of life in the US across generations.

Perhaps Mann’s gift as a writer was developed at Bennington College, or m
May 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I LOVE this book. I'm a huge fan of Sally Mann's photographs & jumped at the chance to go when she did a reading at the Ogden in New Orleans. I had just gotten this book so it was perfect timing. It was really cool to hear her read, as I read the book I then heard it in her voice.

It's funny, heartbreaking, interesting, and having lived in Virginia for 15 years, I loved hearing more about her part of Virginia (Lexington) and friendship w/ Cy Twombly (another favorite) who painted there for many y
Joelle Klein
May 11, 2015 rated it liked it
A very dense book that I was determined to get through but, ultimately, could not. I made it pretty far, though. But it lost steam for me when she went into such heavy detail about her father's family. The earlier parts of her life and career, especially the publication of her controversial book of photos of her children, were the most interesting. I could not make myself pick it up toward the end. ...more
May 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-i-own
Although I only knew of Sally Mann because of her controversy in the early 2000s (people were upset that she photographed her children in the nude), this book uncovered a thoughtful, wonderful writer with an interesting history. I think I was hooked when she wrote in the introduction, I tend to agree with the theory that if you want to keep a memory pristine, you must not call upon it too often, for each time it is revisited, you alter it irrevocably, remembering not the original impression left ...more
Rae Meadows
Jan 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
There was so much to like about this book, particularly if you are familiar with Sally Mann's photography. I love the mix of photos and writing she uses to tell her story. Some sections were stronger than others, though. I wish she would have used a sharper lens on race, and she tends to humble brag, which was off putting. I believe that most of this book was part of her Harvard lecture series and at times it felt too much like it was. But overall, a fascinating glimpse into the process of a gif ...more
Sep 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
How to take a picture (with all the attempts printed, and chatted over), how to be Cy Twombly's neighbor, how to work, how to buy a farm, how to love. This is what all memoirs should be like.

Her family history is so surprising, but never reads as tawdry. She always comes across as discreet. After all, she's mostly here to talk about work:

"When I get asked what one piece of advice I have for young photographers, this is what I tell them: if you are working on a project, and you're thinking maybe
Buried In Print
Following Amazon's purchase of GoodReads, I no longer post my reviews here.

If you would like to read my thoughts on this book, you can view them in the following places:

Posting these links does not constitute permission to duplicate these thoughts anywhere, including corporate-owned sites.

If you read/liked/clicked through to see this review here on GR, many thanks.
Jun 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What a writer! Mann covers a lot of ground in this wonderful reading/viewing experience. She provides many books in one: there is, threaded throughout, her own view of her youth and adulthood as a southerner. Her family's history is fascinating and she provides many photos and expands on the most interesting aspects of it. She had Cy Twombley as a neighbor growing up and teachers who encouraged her creativity. There is, of course, her examination of the "scandal" caused by the publication of the ...more
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Sally Mann is an American photographer, best known for her large black-and-white photographs.

• National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artist Fellowship: 1982, 1988, & 1992.
• John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, 1987.
• Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from the Corcoran College of Art and Design, 2006.
• Honorary Fellowship of The Royal Photographic Society, 2012.

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9 likes · 3 comments
“I tend to agree with the theory that if you want to keep a memory pristine, you must not call upon it too often, for each time it is revisited, you alter it irrevocably, remembering not the original impression left by experience but the last time you recalled it. With tiny differences creeping in at each cycle, the exercise of our memory does not bring us closer to the past but draws us further away.” 37 likes
“As for me, I see both beauty and the dark side of the things; the loveliness of cornfields and full sails, but the ruin as the well. And I see them at the same time, and chary of that ecstasy. The Japanese have a phrase for this dual perception: mono no aware. It means "beauty tinged with sadness," for there cannot be any real beauty without the indolic whiff of decay. For me, living is the same thing as dying, and loving is the same thing as losing, and this does not make me a madwoman; I believe it can make me better at living, and better at loving, and, just possibly, better at seeing.” 15 likes
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