Behind the lens of photographer Sally Mann

The world-renowned photographer soared to fame in the '90s and released a series of images called "Immediate Family”
The world-renowned photographer soared to fam... 07:17

Twenty-five years after world-renowned photographer Sally Mann soared to fame, she is reflecting on her remarkable career in a new memoir is called "Hold Still," reports "CBS This Morning" co-host Charlie Rose

Mann always seems to be interested in life and death, and memory and history, because, she says, she's a Southerner.

But the South is more than a place to her. It's home, family and her inspiration -- which began with her father.

"He was a doctor. He was a medical doctor, but he gave up - to be a devoted one - he gave up a great deal," she said. "He gave up literature and art, and those were the two things he loved," she said.

Her father gave her her first camera.

"And he handed it to me with like virtually no explanation, no 'This is how you load the film and this little Weston light meter,'" she said. "I just started taking pictures and it was, it was an instant love affair. It was just ecstatic. It was, the joy of looking at a negative, this, you know, the fixers dripping down your arms and you hold it up to the light and, I've said at other times that it's almost sexual in its intensity. You just, you're just ecstatic."

Mann took that fire and ran with it, but never far from home. She's photographed and worked on her family farm for almost 50 years. She has an unflinching commitment to the past -- in approach and process.

She said she likes black-and-white photography.

"That's not why I like it, but it's harder, but it also makes you get right to the essence of what you're taking the picture of. You're not distracted by the color," she said. "I mean, the color's just an entirely different process, way of thinking. I see everything in black and white and I also now start seeing things."

She told "CBS This Morning" co-host Charlie Rose she sees him "in a little 8-by-10 rectangle."

"But, yeah, you start blocking out things, and that's a really important part of taking a picture is the ability to isolate what you're what you're concentrating on," she said.

For 10 years she concentrated on her children. She photographed them playing and living and she made art out of the ordinary.

But the nudity and mysterious nature of the prints outraged some.

"I was just taking pictures because the kids were around and gradually a construct was built around them," she said. "They were documentary in origin. They grew less so."

They grew to have a narrative around them and metaphorical implications, she said.

"They got much more complicated," she said.

Virginia is Mann's youngest. She was just a toddler when the pictures began.

"I think one of the things that you may not appreciate about the pictures is that we were incredibly lucky to have a mother who is at home all the time. And we got to work with her. And she somehow found a way to make her work something that we did together with her," Virginia said. "It was collaborative. We were proud of it."

As the children grew, so did Mann's fascination with the land around them, so she began to photograph southern landscapes. They're haunting, romantic and sentimental.

After landscapes, it was death. In her 30s she watched as her father died, fearlessly. It inspired a decade of jarring and thought-provoking images about the reality of life's end.

It's a reality all too familiar now. Her husband Larry has been the love of her life for four decades.

Now in his later years, he's battling muscular dystrophy. Together they're facing it, by documenting it.

"It may be one of my favorite bodies of work, and one of the toughest in so many ways," she said.

It was painful for her, but she said it's harder for him.

"There are pictures that I've taken that made me just ache for him. And I would say, 'Are you sure you want me to show these pictures?' And he said, 'Yeah.' He believes that what we make together is important," she said.

Over a long, wonderful life, Mann has woven an honest and fearless tapestry of work.

When asked how she measures getting better, Mann said "It's sort of a visceral thing."

"I think the difference is that I used to be taking pictures to save things. That was the impulse was to either take pictures to save something, or to try and see what something would look like when it was photographed," she said. "Now it's now it's a lot more important to me to actually say something."

She said she doesn't waste time.

"I work all the time. I never leave home. I mean, I just stay honed in on what's ahead," Mann said.