I had just flown back from New York the day that I was expected to hear Sally Mann talk about, well to be honest I wasn’t sure what I was in for. I usually approach experiences in this way – I like the element of surprise. So here I am running late, but not really thinking much of it. My friends were going early because they wanted a book – I was ok without getting a book. As I walked into Ryerson’s library building I saw a group of influential art people and thought where are all the others? I poked my head around the corner and saw the general admissions line. I stopped and talked to my friends they had been waiting since 3, it was now 6:30. I looked back and the line looked long. As I continued walking I was in complete shock. I have been to countless art events, music festivals and have never seen anything like this. The line didn’t end. I walked for about five minutes, and at each corner wondering when it was going to end. It wasn’t and without exaggeration there were probably close to 2,000 people waiting to hear the golden words come out of her mouth. I walked back to another group of friends to chat about the situation and man came up, thinking I was going to bud the line. A fight broke out between him and the guy in line. I was extremely overwhelmed and walked away. As I was walking a man said that he would sell me his spot for 100 bucks. People were literally going nuts for Sally Mann. I had heard that they were going to have a viewing room upstairs so I thought well I can leave or experience Sally Mann in the same building, three floors up and on a screen. I decided to stay.
As I made my way upstairs I heard others say that they had been waiting for hours and still couldn’t see her in the flesh. I wonder what the difference between these two experiences were and if one was better than the other or if in fact this ‘better-ness’ really mattered. I now reach the overflow room, which is your typical university classroom. Quite small, blue chairs with a tray to write on, a podium and a screen pulled down for projection. I feel like I am in a lecture and immediately pull out a piece of paper and pen. People are talking and others start to get annoyed, there is this interesting tension in the room accompanied by a slight buzzing from the air vents. The talk has already started with the director of the gallery standing there thanking all those involved and getting a little star struck by her presence. Though he has worked with her in the past, he seems like a little kid meeting his idol for the first time. He goes on for too long as most these introductions do. As he introduces Sally Mann the audience in the auditorium claps and so do we in the overflow room. She starts to read excerpts from a book she just published. Her voice accompanied by her poetic style of writing, puts my mind into this visual trance and makes me actually feel her experiences. I want to know more about her life, who is her family, husband, the children that she apparently exploited for art?
There are points where she makes us feel her self-doubt and almost turns us into a sympathetic audience. I try really hard to remember that she is one of the most successful living female photographers of our time and wonder how her effect will last generations to come. She raises the issue of the photograph taking over our memories, saying that photographs actually hinder our memories. I am not sure how much I agree with this. No longer do images guide us to truth, but they do guide us to a time and place where we rely on the image to remind us of certain emotions, moments and thoughts. After she speaks people in the overflow room start to leave. I knew that no one in the actual auditorium were getting up to leave. Why is it ok to leave when she isn’t actually present? How interested in Sally Mann are these people? When the Q & A is complete I go downstairs. I debate if I should buy a book and wait in line. I decide not too. As I am outside, the director of the CONTACT Festival approaches me and offers me a signed copy. I take it and as I hold it in my hands I dream for a second that I am her and maybe one day thousands of people will stand and wait, go as far as experience me through a screen to hear about my life and experience with the photograph.