Hold Still

A Memoir with Photographs


By Sally Mann

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This National Book Award finalist is 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 precedes her.

Sorting through boxes of family papers and yellowed photographs she finds more than she bargained for: “deceit and scandal, alcohol, domestic abuse, car crashes, bogeymen, clandestine affairs, dearly loved and disputed family land . . . racial complications, vast sums of money made and lost, the return of the prodigal son, and maybe even bloody murder.”

In lyrical prose and startlingly revealing photographs, she crafts a totally original form of personal history that has the page-turning drama of a great novel but is firmly rooted in the fertile soil of her own life.


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Family Ties: The Importance of Place


The Sight of My Eye

Until my early twenties, I kept handwritten journals. As I filled each one, I would pile it on top of the others under my desk and discard the bottom one. The first to go, I remember, was a small, pink child's journal with "My Precious Thoughts" in cursive gold lettering on the cover, those thoughts safeguarded by a pitifully ineffectual brass lock.

When I was eighteen, in the winter prior to my June wedding, I relinquished my room to my mother, who had huffily left her marital bed when Tara, a Great Dane, moved into it with my father. Cleaning out my stuff, I pulled out the journals accumulated so far and bundled them into a box I labeled "Journals, 1968–."

Ripping the desiccated masking tape off that box some forty years later, I wasn't surprised to find that the first entry in the earliest journal was a paean to the formative Virginia landscape of my youth. It begins:

It has been a mild summer, with more rain than most. We work hard and grow tired. The evening is cool as we watch the night slide in and hear each sound in the still blue hour. The silver poplar shimmers and every so often the pond ripples with fish. The mountains grow deep. They are darker than the night.

Judging by the unembellished declarative sentences in those first paragraphs, it's a safe bet I was reading Hemingway that summer, somewhere around my seventeenth. But read down a few more lines and I come over all Faulknerian, soaring into rhapsodic description:

We reach the top pasture and you are ahead and spread your arms wide. I run to catch up and it opens to me. There is no word for this; nothing can contain it or give it address. There are no boundaries, no states. The mountains are long and forever and they give the names, they give the belief in the names. The mountains give the name of blue, the name of change and mist and hour and light and noise of wind, they are the name of my name, the hand of my hand and the sight of my eye.

I have loved Rockbridge County, Virginia, surely since the moment my birth-bleary eyes caught sight of it. Not only is it abundant with the kind of obvious, everyday beauty that even a mewling babe can appreciate, but it also boasts the world-class drama of the Natural Bridge of Virginia, surveyed by George Washington and long vaunted (incorrectly, as it turned out) on local billboards as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Like any true native, I didn't bother to investigate our local tourist draw until well into my thirties, and when I did I was chagrined, blown away by its airy audacity.

After checking out the Natural Bridge, visitors looking for a dose of the Ye Olde will usually make a stop in history-rich Lexington, the county seat (pop. 7,000), where I grew up. Plenty of interesting people have been born or passed time in Lexington, the artist Cy Twombly being among the more notable, but also Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the reaper; Gen. George Marshall; Tom Wolfe; Arnold Toynbee; Alben Barkley, vice president under Truman, who not only passed through here but passed away here, being declared dead on the dais in midspeech by my own physician father; and Patsy Cline, who lived just down the creek from our old house in town.

The young novelist Carson McCullers, burdened by the meteoric success of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and recovering in Lexington, was once hauled out of a bathtub at a mutual friend's house, fully clothed, drenched, and drunk, by my mother. Thinking about it now, it's probably a good thing that my mother is not around to receive the unwelcome news that her oft-told stories about Edward Albee writing Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? while in Lexington are likely apocryphal. Not only that, but she said he did so in a cottage on the grounds of my childhood home, Boxerwood, while visiting its occupant James Boatwright. I'm pretty sure her assertion that the Albee characters George and Martha had been based on a local faculty couple famous for their bickering and alcohol consumption is incorrect, too, but that probably wouldn't stop her even now from deliciously persevering with it. Besides, it's still believable to me, for I well remember the sounds of the drinking and bickering during Boatwright's late-night literary parties at the cottage drifting down to my open bedroom windows during the early sixties.

The eye-filling Reynolds Price visited Boatwright often (as did, at various times, Eudora Welty, Mary McCarthy, and W. H. Auden), and on the night I attended my first prom at age fourteen, he and Boatwright emerged from the screen porch to drunkenly toast me, calling me Sally Dubonnet, a term I find baffling even today, as their gin rickeys sloshed over the glasses.

What brings both luminaries and regular visitors to Lexington are often the two handsome old colleges, Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute, which coexist uncomfortably cheek by jowl, as well as the homes and burial places of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. The remains of those defeated generals' horses, Little Sorrel and Traveller, are also here, one at VMI, the other at W&L.

When I was growing up, Traveller's bleached skeleton was displayed on a plinth in an academic building at W&L, pinned together somewhat worryingly by wire and desecrated with the hastily carved initials of students. Just a few blocks north from Traveller at neighboring VMI, the nearly hairless hide of the deboned Little Sorrel was displayed in the museum. I was told that a local guide once explained to his clutch of credulous tourists that the skeleton was Little Sorrel as a mature horse and the stuffed hide was Little Sorrel when he was just a young colt.

The Shenandoah Valley attracts many visitors; some come for its history, especially its Civil War history, but even more for its undeniable physical beauty. It is said that as the radical abolitionist John Brown stood on the elevated scaffold in his last minutes, he gazed out at our lovely valley in wonderment. Eyewitnesses reported that before the hangman covered his head, John Brown turned to the sheriff and expressed with windy eloquence his admiration for the landscape before him. The sheriff responded laconically but with unambiguous agreement, "Yup, none like it," and signaled the hangman to pull, pdq, the white hood over Brown's valley-struck eyes.

John Brown was gazing south from the northernmost, and widest, part of the valley, but had he been standing on the scaffold in our part, some 150 miles south, his wonderment and fustian would have been tenfold. Everyone's is, even without the scaffold and the imminent hood. Had Brown been in Rockbridge County, he would have begged the hangman for one more minute to experience the geologic comfort of the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountain ranges as they come together out of the soft blue distance.

This effect is especially apparent as you drive down the valley on I-81, the north-south interstate that parallels I-95 to the east. As you approach Rockbridge, the two mountain ranges begin to converge, forming a modest geographic waist for the buxom valley. By the time you cross the county line, neither of them is more than a ten-minute drive in either direction.

If that weren't enough extravagant beauty for one medium-sized county, then shortly after crossing into Rockbridge you are presented with the eye-popping sight of three additional mountains: Jump, House, and Hogback. Responding to Paleozoic pressure, this anomalous trio erupted like wayward molars smack in the central palate of the valley, each positioning itself with classical balance, as though negotiating for maximum admiration. When they come into view at mile marker 198.6, occasionally radiant with celestial frippery, you will stomp down on the accelerator in search of the next exit, which happens to be the one for Lexington.

I had the good fortune to be born in that town. In fact, even better, I was born in the austere brick home of Stonewall Jackson himself, which was then the local hospital. Due to overcrowding, I bunked in a bureau drawer (maybe Jackson's own?) for the first few days of my life. And when I was a stripling I rode my own little sorrel, an Arabian named Khalifa, out across the Rockbridge countryside just as Jackson did. I could ride all day at a light hand gallop through farm after farm, hopping over fences oppressed with honeysuckle and stopping only for water. Much of that landscape is now ruined with development, roadways, and unjumpable fencing, but the mysteries and revelations of this singular place, just as I observed in my earliest journal entries, have been the begetter and breathing animus of my artistic soul.


All the Pretty Horses

Except for a stretch in the middle of my life, horses have been either a fervent dream, as these childhood drawings attest,

or a happily realized fervent passion. To write about how important place is to me, especially in my life with Larry Mann and in my photographs, I have to address how essential horses have been to it as well. Larry and I had three often cash-strapped decades when we had no horses in our lives, between our marriage in 1970 and our move thirty years later to our farm. But all that time my buried horse-passion lay still rooted within me, an etiolated sprout waiting to break greenly forth at the first opportunity.

And when at last that opportunity came in the spring of 1998 and Larry and I acquired our family farm from my older brothers, Chris and Bob, I bought the first horse I could find. With the purchase of that spavined old (re-)starter mount, my dormant obsession burst into full, extravagant leaf.

I've been said to be temperamentally drawn to extremes, in good ways and bad, and part of what I love about the kind of riding I do is the extreme physicality of it. Appropriately called "endurance riding," the sport entails competitions of thirty, fifty, and one hundred miles, going as fast as you safely can and almost exclusively on tough little Arabian horses just like Khalifa.

The landscape through which we race is usually so remote it is just the horse and me for dozens of fast and sometimes treacherous miles, an elemental, mindless fusion of desire and abandon. Sometimes we are running alone in the lead, and at those times I can't deny the observation of the writer Melissa Pierson that nothing may be fiercer in nature or society than a woman gripped by a passion to win. Nothing, that is, except a mare so possessed.

And in those moments I am wowed by the subtle but unambiguous communication between our two species, a possibility scoffed at by those unfortunates who haven't experienced it, but as real and intoxicating as the smell of the sweating horse beneath me. That physical and mental bond—the trail ahead framed between my eager horse's pricked ears, and the ground flying under her pounding hooves—can reset my brain the way nothing else does and, in doing so, lavishly cross-pollinates my artistic life.

This riding rapture, so essential to my mind and body, would never have been possible, and my slumbering horse passion would have remained buried and unrealized, were it not for our farm. And not just that: without the farm, many of the other important things in my life—my marriage to Larry, the family photographs, the southern landscapes—might never have happened either.

On our fortieth wedding anniversary, in June 2010, I received this email from our younger daughter, Virginia:

Although you have said you don't want to make a big fuss about this, I think you are both proud of what you have achieved today: it is a testament to love, to a commitment to equality, patience, selflessness and, of course, the farm.

How odd it is that a piece of land should figure so prominently into her concept of our marriage, and yet how perceptive and accurate that observation is. Even before Larry and I met, in December 1969, our farm had been the setting for an Arthurian pageant of predestination, set in the aftermath of an epic flood.

In August 1969, Hurricane Camille rolled into Pass Christian, Mississippi, where she hit with Category 5 intensity, then made her way northeast and crossed the Appalachian Mountains into the Shenandoah Valley. Picking up moisture from heavy rains in the previous days, Camille dumped a staggering twenty-seven inches of rain in three hours onto the mountain streams that drain into the Maury River, the dozy midsized waterway that loops around our farm.

Our cabin on the Maury, built well above any existing flood line, was clobbered by a wall of water carrying logs, parts of buildings, cars, and detritus of every imaginable kind. The water reached the roofline, but a large hickory prevented the cabin from joining its brethren headed a hundred and fifty miles downstream to Richmond. As the flooding diminished, leaving angry snakes, a poignantly solitary baby shoe, tattered clothing, splintered wood, and nearly a foot of sand on its floor, the cabin subsided more or less where it had been before.

My parents wearily began shoveling out the sandy gunk, noting the many treasures washed away by the floodwaters. Most vexing was the loss of the large entry stone, concave like an old bar of soap, that had memorably required several men to put it in place at the cabin's 1962 christening. Believing such a rock could not have been swept far, my father eventually located it under a mound of debris and shoveled it free. But he needed some help to move it back to the doorway, so he called my W&L boyfriend, who offered to come with his strong friend, Larry Mann. The three of them rode out to the farm on a fall afternoon in my father's green Jeep.

Apparently, the rock's smooth surface made it difficult to grip and several times it nearly mashed their toes. After one particularly close call, Larry asked the other two to stand back and, in a moment I imagine as bathed in a focused beam of mote-flecked sun streaming through the tree canopy, hoisted the rock onto his back.

My father and boyfriend surely stood openmouthed… no, indeed, in my mythically heroic replay, I am sure they knelt, shielding their eyes as they gazed up at the epic vision of luminous Larry Mann replacing the threshold stone.

But in prosaic truth, lusterless Larry staggered to the cabin with the stone barely atop his back and unceremoniously dumped it in reasonable proximity to the door, panting with the effort. Still, even without the imagined heroism, my boyfriend said that when he glanced over at my father he was startled to see him looking at Larry with a bright gleam of acquisitiveness in his eye. Certainly it was more than just satisfaction at having the stone back in place. My boyfriend said he knew right then that the result of this portent-laden moment was that Larry Mann would be marrying my father's daughter.

And here is where the horses come back in. One of the tenuous links that my childhood had with Larry's was that we both rode and loved horses. Without this link, my father's marital hopes for his daughter might never have been realized. But, like so much of his childhood, Larry's riding experience was a world apart from mine.

There's a certain horse culture to which I yearned to belong when I was young—the culture of grooms, bespoke boots, imported horses, boozy hunt breakfasts, scarlet shadbellies, and grouchy, thick-bodied German instructors biting down on their cigars. This was Larry's horse world.

Mine, more passionate and far less structured, revolved around a Roman-nosed plug and her companion, a bright chestnut Arabian yearling given to my father, a country doctor, in return for a kitchen-table delivery. The former was misnamed Fleet and we named the colt Khalifa Ibn Sina Demoka Zubara Al-Khor, which classed him up a little. There were no grooms to clean the boggy lean-to that housed this unlikely pair, I rode without a helmet in Keds sneakers and untucked blouses with Peter Pan collars, and I never had a real lesson.

At first I didn't even have a saddle, as my parents assumed that if they made it miserable enough, this "horse-crazy" phase would pass. But I stuck with it, riding that old mare bareback, her withers so high and bony they could serve as a clitoridectomy tool. After six months of this, I decided that the nicely rounded back of the little Arabian colt looked awfully appealing.

So, one day I climbed up on the eighteen-month-old youngster who hadn't had the first moment of training, and off we rode, a rope halter my only means of control. As one might imagine, Khalifa taught me the only thing I ever really needed to know about riding, and perhaps about life: to stay balanced. Never mind the heels down, the pinky finger outside the rein, or mounting from the left. This little red colt taught me how to ride like a Comanche.

And that's what we did, flying hell-bent-for-leather across the nearby golf course, which my socialist-minded parents had taught me to disdain, sailing over barbed-wire fences and, when the heat softened the asphalt, racing startled drivers on flat stretches of the road. I rode Khalifa every day and, in a preview of my later miscreant teenage behavior, would set my alarm to ring under the pillow and climb out the window to ride under the wild, fat moon.

My parents, despite my obvious joy in riding, still refused to support it. I understand their indifference, or perhaps it was something stronger—disapproval. They were intellectuals; they hung out with artists and academics, not horse people. The thought of my proper Bostonian, New Yorker–reading mother resting her spectator pump on a muddied rail and chatting up a neatsfoot-oil-smelling horse mother is almost impossible for me to conjure. So antithetic is that notion that even then, when I suffered their indifference most painfully, I didn't particularly resent it.

It would suit this narrative if I were to tell you that my mean and insensitive parents sent me to boarding school in the snowy north to separate me from my true love, Khalifa. But the truth is this: my confused and concerned parents sent me to the snowy north (that part is still true) because my reckless behavior on horseback had morphed into reckless behavior in other areas. The biggest threat to a young equestrienne is not the forbidden bourbon from the flask on the hunt field or a foot caught in the stirrup of a runaway horse. It is, of course, boys.

My first horse chapter ended badly. When I left for boarding school, my father shuffled Khalifa and Fleet out to the farm where they apparently harried the cattle belonging to a tenant. This cowpoke called our house one night and, with a bumpkin persuasion that could charm a snake into a lawn mower, convinced my father to give the horses to him for riding. Within a week he sent the old mare to be killed at the meat market. When we discovered this, I went in search of my fine little sorrel Khalifa, tracking his dwindling fortunes as he went from one horse trader to the next in Black Beauty–like abasement, before ending up, like the mare, as dog food.


The Bending Arc

As many people have remarked, I am lucky to have found Larry Mann when I did. Whether I was born this way or my personality was formed by circumstance, I don't think anyone would call me an easy person to deal with, and by the time our paths crossed, the hormones of the teen years had only made things worse.

I had been a near-feral child, raised not by wolves but by the twelve boxer dogs my father kept around Boxerwood, the honeysuckle-strangled and darkly mysterious thirty-acre property where I grew up. The story of my intractability has been told and retold to me all my life by my elders, usually accompanied by a friendly little cheek pinch and a sympathetic glance over at my mother. Recently, in tracking down stories about Virginia Carter, the black woman who worked for my family for nearly fifty years, I visited Jane Alexander, a ninety-six-year-old who repeated to me, in a soft voice with a bobby-pin twang to it, the now familiar tale of my refusal to wear a stitch of clothing until I was five. Family snapshots seem to bear this out.

I know that my mother tried to raise me properly, but I made her cross as two sticks, so she turned the day-to-day care of her stroppy, unruly child over to Virginia, known to everyone as Gee-Gee, a name given her by my eldest brother, Bob. Jane Alexander reminded me about the beautiful, often handmade dresses that Gee-Gee would lovingly press for me, in hopes that they would soften my resolve to live as a dog. I have them still, pristine and barely worn.

If my early years sound a bit like those legends of wolf-teat sucklers, I guess they were. But, all the same, when I compare the lives of children today, monitored, protected, medicated, and overscheduled, to my own unsupervised, dirty, boring childhood, I believe I had the better deal. I grew into the person I am today, for better or worse, on those lifeless summer afternoons having doggy adventures that took me far from home, where no one had looked for me or missed me in the least.

Looking back, though, it could be that my parents were a bit on the less-than-diligent side, even for the times. Once, when I was with my mother in the dry-goods section of Leggett's department store, we saw the distinctive going-to-town hat worn by Mrs. Hinton bobbing above the bolts of cloth. She was the mother of my brother Bob's best friend, Billy Hinton. When she saw my mother she brightened and said, "Oh, Billy just received a postcard from Bob. Apparently he loves his new school!"

My mother, rubbing some velveteen between forefinger and thumb, responded distractedly, "Oh, that's good, we hoped he had gotten there okay."

Turns out that ten days before, my parents had packed a steamer trunk full of warm clothes for my fifteen-year-old brother and driven him to the Lynchburg, Virginia, train station. After eight hours on the Lynchburg train, he had to change stations in New York. My parents told him to carry his trunk from Penn Station to Grand Central and to locate the overnight train to a town near the Putney School, the Vermont boarding school he was to attend. Then they left him and apparently never wondered if those connections had worked for the boy, who had not traveled alone before, or even if he had made it to Putney at all. They had heard nothing since dropping him off and had never called the school to check.

My mother told that story countless times, laughing gaily at her recollection of Mrs. Hinton's shock.

The assumption back then, in the palmy, postwar Eisenhower years in America, was that everything was fine now—and that was true, for the most part. I think my parents were fairly untroubled by child-rearing issues, except for the constant battles over clothing their stubborn hoyden; my father called me "Jaybird" because I was that naked. But eventually even that was solved by the arrival, in 1956, of Mr. Coffey's carpentry crew, there to build a cottage for my grandmother Jessie on the property. My mother proposed a deal: if I wanted to hang out with the carpenters, I had to wear clothes of some sort. I was so lonely I took it.

Even though I finally agreed to wear clothing, I had some difficulty working out the details, as my mother's exasperated journal entries report.

Despite being kicked out several times for not wearing any underwear, never mind tattered and dirty, a few mornings a week I began to attend Mrs. Lackman's preschool, where I worked on my socialization skills. By springtime, I had managed to make some human friends whose parents drove them out to my house for a birthday party presided over by Gee-Gee.

By the time I began real school, I was almost normal: I no longer spent my days poking at snapping turtles in the pond, or hiding out with my grubby blanket in my honeysuckle caves, or following my unneutered beagle on his amorous adventures down the paved road, from which, when I was hungry, I would pull stringy hot tar to chew like gum. I now wore crinolines, little white socks, and gauzy dresses.

I joined the Brownies

and the Episcopal Church choir.

But look closely: if you study the choir picture, something is still not quite tamed in the child pictured there.

And what is this? What is in those Brownie eyes?

If you had to judge by my average test scores, I suppose it's not raw intelligence you see in them. I was always a pretty bad test taker, especially so where math was concerned.

Still, I had enough gray matter in the brainpan and was a diligent and hard worker once I got fired up. As I went through school I discovered I was also competitive, on the honor roll all the way until high school:

(Note my father's whimsically varied signatures. I lined up eight years of report cards, all signed by him, and all signed in a different way. He was a busy man, a practicing medical doctor: how did he manage to keep this silly conceit going?)

In those years and the horse years that followed (the pre–driver's license years), I had as halcyon a life as any rural girl, despite the obstacles my horse-insensitive parents placed in my way. My natural, unquenchable rebellious streak played out on horseback, and, as I am still engaging in irresponsible, high-speed horse behavior, who am I, now in my sixties, to condemn that high-flying wild child?

Not so easily forgiven is the girl who dismounted for the last time from her exhausted horse and, learner's permit in pocket, peeled out of the driveway, double clutching and burning rubber. This is a chapter we'll cut short: the bleached hair and blue eye shadow, tight pants with what little tatas I had pushing up out of my tank top above them, the many boyfriends, the precocious sexual behavior, the high school intrigues, the vulgar, sassy mouth, the very deliberate anti-intellectualism and provocation.


  • "Hold Still...[is a] weird, intense and uncommonly beautiful new memoir.... A cerebral and discursive book about the South and about family and about making art that has some of the probity of Flannery O'Connor's nonfiction collection 'Mystery and Manners' yet is spiked with the wildness and plain talk of Mary Karr's best work.... An instant classic among Southern memoirs of the last 50 years."—Dwight Garner, The New York Times
  • "[A] wonderfully weird and vivid memoir-generously illustrated with family snapshots, her own and other people's photos, documents, and letters-describes a life more dramatic than I had imagined."—Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review
  • "Hold Still [is] a glorious marriage of words and pictures, a courageous and visually ravishing memoir."—BookPage
  • "A record of [Sally Mann's] life that is intimate, outrageous, frank, and fearless. The vivid descriptive energy and arresting images in this impressive book will leave readers breathless."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
  • "Intelligent, heartfelt, hilarious, disarming.... It flows like wine-fueled gossip."—Boston Globe
  • "Richly compelling and evocative.... An unforgettable memoir. But it's more than that.... The abiding and precious gift of this book is precisely this: Mann's highly personal exploration of her passion, and her perseverance."—Bookforum
  • "The twilit aura that makes Sally Mann's photographs so evocative comes through just as strongly in her writing."—USA Today
  • "A boldly alive, bracingly honest, thoroughly engrossing, sun-dappled, and deeply shadowed tale of inheritance and defiance, creativity and remembrance by an audacious and tenacious American photographer."—Booklist (starred review)
  • "Few photographers of any time or place have matched Sally Mann's steadiness of simple eyesight, her serene technical brilliance, and the clearly communicated eloquence she derives from her subjects, human and otherwise - subjects observed with an ardor that is all but indistinguishable from love."—Reynolds Price, Time
  • "[Sally Mann's] prose examines Southern life as closely as her camera lens examines the Southern landscape, and Hold Still explains not just her photographic technique, but also her resolve to look head-on at things most people would rather not see."—Associated Press
  • "Read this book. If you want to be an artist, carry it around like your Bible. If you strive to be a better mother or daughter, or a more insightful human being, Hold Still needs to be with you at all times.... As soon as I finished the last page and closed the cover, I turned to page one and began reading it again. It is remarkable."—BookReporter
  • "Generous, enlightening, thought-provoking, often dark but more often funny enough to make you laugh out loud, Hold Still is a book to hold on to for dear life, because this is one of those books that if you loan it out, you'll never see it again."—The Daily Beast
  • "A sweeping tale of Mann's coming of age, her family history, her artistic influences and choices. It is also an homage to the South...HOLD STILL is thought-provoking and is certainly arresting to look at."—The Washington Post
  • "[An] extraordinary book.... plumbing family archives, Mann unfolds tales of scandal, murder-suicide and racism, while the stunning visuals reveal her evolving creative growth. The result is as fresh and startling as a candid."—People
  • "Mann's prose-luminous, chatty and smart-together with photographs that arrest and provoke-invites readers to hold the camera still with her, and in that space, to imagine whole narratives that accompany these slices in time."—Los Angeles Times
  • "Mann cannot answer all the questions she asks herself and sometimes doubts her purpose and her memories, but in holding still in the fast-flowing stream, she has produced the rarest of things, a picture so true it is breathtaking."—The Telegraph
  • "A powerfully moving, meditative examination not just of an artist's life and work but also of something much more permanent, mysterious and complex: the South, both in close-up and from afar.... She's a rarity: the ambidextrous artist."—The Richmond Times-Dispatch
  • "A stirring tale of a life in pictures.... A profound self-portrait of an artist and her medium, and of the people and landscapes that have fueled that art."—Garden and Gun
  • "[A] crackling, forthright exploration of her life and career....The incisive writing and remarkable photos attest to Mann's relentless habit of watching the world, waiting for 'that incubating purity and grace that happens, sometimes, when all the parts come together.'"—The Cleveland Plain Dealer
  • "A sprawling, drawl of a memoir, stretching narrative into imagery, personal memories into historical research and creative reflection into critical theory. Deftly and courageously written, it is spacious enough to accommodate all the photographer's doubts (as an artist) as well as her several certainties (as a mother)."—The Houston Chronicle
  • "The voice is so clear and so crisp, so ready to admit error but also to stand up for itself.... rarely are our protagonists so gosh darned admirable."—San Francisco Chronicle
  • "Mann's...memoir lacks a dull moment-partially due to the beauty of her language, and partially because of her striking photographs, and the ones she dug up from the family attic."—The Rumpus
  • "Endlessly engaging and fascinating."—RVANews
  • "A reckoning with the unreliability of both memory and photography as ways of preserving the past.... The writing is so engaging and her intellect so lively that the long ride seems almost too short. This is clearly a book Mann needed to write, and her passion for the task gives Hold Still much of the same exquisite power found in her photography."—Go Knoxville
  • "Startling.... A family history like no other."—New York Journal of Books
  • "For all her accolades as a visual artist, it might surprise you to know that Mann is also one hell of a writer. Hold Still is stark, disturbing and beautiful."—Nashville Scene
  • "Sumptuous.... Mann writes insightfully about her ancestors, her friends and her own work.... The tangled and arbitrary threads that tether each of us to what matters in this world."—Toronto National Post
  • "Instant classic."—Vogue
  • "Mann's deeply personal and unflinchingly honest reflections on her family, her photography, and her brushes with the harsh specter of public condemnation make Hold Still not only an uncommonly compelling memoir, but also an invaluable fond of wisdom."—Bustle
  • "If you only read one book this year, Hold Still by Sally Mann should be it."—KMUW (NPR)
  • "Hold Still is a wild ride of a memoir. Visceral and visionary. Fiercely beautiful. My kind of true adventure."—Patti Smith, musician and National Book Award-winning author of Just Kids
  • "One would not need to know Sally Mann's remarkable work as a photographer to be swept up in her memoir Hold Still, which draws upon a family history so rife with jaw-dropping drama that it could provide the grist for a dozen novels. With prodigious intellect and a telling instinct for the exact detail that will reveal character or throw it into question, Mann delves into the treacherous territory of memory, mesmerized by the relentless dance of beauty and decay. In doing so, she manifests in prose the acuity of seeing that has propelled her to the top rank of contemporary artists."—Andrew Solomon, author of Far From the Tree and The Noonday Demon
  • "Photographer Sally Mann's book Hold Still is one of the great portraits of the American South. Written in her pitch perfect prose style, it is a textbook of illumination and desire for anyone who hears the siren call of art beckoning to them. It's southern to the bone, hell on wheels. Hold Still is a masterpiece."—Pat Conroy, author of The Death of Santini and South of Broad
  • "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 origins of art. I couldn't take my eyes off of it."—Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and This is the Story of a Happy Marriage
  • "For three decades Sally Mann has captured images that are unique, haunting, beautiful, disturbing, stark - it would take a mid-sized thesaurus to hold all the adjectives that have been used to describe both the art and the artist. In Hold Still, she wraps her prose around her pictures, revealing a fine talent for writing and a rich family history."—John Grisham, author of The Firm and Sycamore Row
  • "Sally Mann's Hold Still is just like her pictures: forthright, adventurous, loving, fearless, beautiful, intimate, and somehow uncanny. That means it's probably just like her."

    Luc Sante, author of Low Life and Kill All Your Darlings
  • "What I admire most about Sally Mann's new book is not her ability to write captivating sentences--she does. It's the honesty and fearlessness, the two mixed together, compelling her to own up to her mistakes, to acknowledge her winnings, to accept her losses (and those of her family). For this quality alone, Hold Still deserves a fixed place in the library of American memoir."

    Paul Hendrickson, author of Hemingway's Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost
  • "There has never been a book like this. At once a poetics of place, a work of deep history, a bildungsroman, and an acute inquiry into the big subjects: love, family, other animals, the nature of creativity. It is sublime. It's also very funny. Haunting and haunted, Hold Still is the memoir of an artist that is art itself."—Melissa Holbrook Pierson, author of The Place You Love is Gone
  • "This spectacular modern memoir reads like a sweeping gothic novel, filled with mystery, violence, controversy, and, of course, love in all its forms. It is a literary family album enlivened by many of the images in the stories told. A Southern work, it is also universally accessible, as all of Sally Mann's work is, for she reaches deep into her ancestral headwaters and the twisted rivers of human remembrance. A triumph."—Jamie Lee Curtis, actress

On Sale
May 12, 2015
Page Count
496 pages

Sally Mann

About the Author

Sally Mann (born in Lexington, Virginia, 1951) is one of America’s most renowned photographers. She has received numerous awards, including NEA, NEH, and Guggenheim Foundation grants, and her work is held by major institutions internationally.

Her many books include What Remains (2003), Deep South (2005), and the Aperture titles At Twelve (1988), Immediate Family (1992), Still Time (1994), Proud Flesh (2009), and The Flesh and the Spirit (2010). A feature film about her work, What Remains, debuted to critical acclaim in 2006. Mann is represented by Gagosian Gallery, New York. She lives in Virginia.

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