Dorothea Lange | Live Q&A with Sarah Meister and Sally Mann

Sally Meister and Sally Mann, during the time of COVID, discuss photographs and the works of Dorothea Lange in a virtual encounter. I found her advice, during the interview, to new photographs insightful. She begins by suggesting that you can not think your way into a body of work, rather, she says, you need to work rather than think, as waiting for inspiration to come to you does not work. You need to just do the work. The second piece of advice is to be ordinary and organized, be who you are not what you think an artist should be, and this will allow you to be outrageous and original.

Finally, she says: If you do a body of work and you think it is good and you are getting somewhere really quickly start another body of work. So that by the time you finish your first body of work you are not inflicted with “the well has gone dry syndrome.” You are already being seduced by the siren song of the next body of work. So you can let the first body of work go and you can make something entirely different.

During the interview, she talks about the principle of micro-mensuration and reflects on its meaning in photography. Heisenberg was measuring subatomic particles by bouncing light or photons off particles, he realized that the photons as they bounced off the particles alter their course and therefore the measurement would be inaccurate. She suggests that this uncertainty principle of micro mensuration applies to photography. Digital cameras measure the photons of light that are bouncing off objects, so why would we not expect the resulting image to alter the scene. Mann goes on to explain that photographs both remind us of a moment in time and also alters our memory of that moment. Even though the photograph is a doorway back into a moment of time it also gives to that moment its own meaning distinct and different from the moment as the photographer remembers it. She goes on suggest that in addition to this change in meaning you are also infusing yourself into the photography, “there is no way to take a picture without imposing yourself on it.”

During the interview, she talks about the derivation of some of her bodies of work and how they come out of bad ideas. In her archive, lots of bad negatives are stored along with the good ones. It is a record of how bad ideas evolved into good ideas, and this will become the subject of her new book. I am looking forward to reading this book.