On doubt


General Photography

There was a moment in the Sally Mann documentary recommended here earlier that I found very striking: After having finished her series “What Remains”, and after having agreed on getting the work shown at some very prestigious New York gallery, Sally Mann is being informed that the gallery decided to cancel the show. Of course, she is very upset about this (who wouldn’t be?); and then while she’s trying to understand what might possibly be the reason, I noticed that one obvious possible explanation is never brought up: Maybe the work simply isn’t that good. She never entertains that idea. I found that striking.

I’ve always wondered how artists deal with doubt about their work. I often find that aspect way more interesting than any other aspect. In fact, I usually find people who have absolutely no doubt about what they’re doing somewhat scary.

Of course, I don’t know whether Sally Mann thought about this - the documentary never mentions it, and since she was very honest and open in it, one might use that as a clue. But I don’t know.

There is this moment, when you work on something, and suddenly you think “Sheesh, this is all utter crap”, or maybe you have some nagging doubts about the work, which you can’t express in words. Isn’t that most human? Maybe people experience this in different magnitudes, some more (I know that I go to extremes in this respect), some less.

But I remember when I watched the documentary I was just struck by that aspect of artistic work missing - part of why is probably because I think that the photography that the documentary focuses on really is so much weaker than Sally Mann’s earlier portraiture.