In this memoir, a unique interplay of narrative and image, renowned photographer Sally Mann explores the subjects of her life and art: family, race, mortality, and the storied landscape of the American South, as well as the family history that precedes her.
Hold Still is 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 ... She whips these stories to life, with a novelist’s relish and skill, shaking every bit of dust from them ... The best quality of Hold Still — a book that strikes me as an instant classic among Southern memoirs of the last 50 years — is its ambient sense of an original, come-as-you-are life that has been well lived and well observed ... Like the photographs she most admires, it is rooted in particulars yet has 'some rudiment of the eternal in it.'
When presented this way, through Mann’s seductive, cerebral, yet preternaturally calm written voice, the controversy seems shouted across a long void of history, though it wasn’t so very long ago. The age of ubiquitous self-disclosure, wrought by the internet, throws into sharp relief the fact that these pictures are, at the very least, clearly art ... Another surprise of this volume is learning what a good critical mind Mann has. Not all artists possess, as she does, the ability to articulate her vision in clear language.
The kind of photographer she is comes under just as strange and piercing a scrutiny in this exceptional chronicle. More than that, she confronts herself – motives and transgressions, loves and losses – with an intelligence that can be as distressing as it is impressive, all of it leavened by her pin-sharp wit ... The stories in this book are the stuff of novels, and Mann brings her photographer’s eye to the striking visual vignettes ... Mann is at her most eloquent when considering the Southern landscape and its 'flawed human heart.' Its 'vine hung dirt roads,' 'soft pulpy vowels' and 'death-inflected soil' weigh heavily in the book, as if she can’t quite resolve the love she feels for it with its great contradiction, 'the splendour of a lost world founded on a monstrous crime.'