Ode to Photo History

Len Prince puts the photo icon Jessie Mann back on center stage.

Are certain people destined to appear in front of the camera? If so, Jessie Mann is probably one of them. As a child, her face became a familiar presence in art galleries, museums, and books featuring the work of her mother, photographer Sally Mann. That work, including images of Mann's three children in the nude, became controversial in the heated cultural climate of the Reagan era, but in truth they were best seen as powerful evocations of a particular place and promise of youth.

Even then, Jessie Mann's singular gaze was riveting. "Everything Jessie does is an image," says New York-based photographer Len Prince, who recently completed a five-year portrait project starring Mann.

The project began when Prince, noted for his George Hurrell-like Hollywood photography, began casting Mann as various movie sirens, such as Marilyn Monroe. Eventually, the reference changed to art and photography icons. To replicate Man Ray's famed solarized images of Lee Miller, for instance, Prince and his partner Jason Paulson shot Mann with Prince's old 8x10 Deardorff camera, then finished the shot in Photoshop.

Jessie, 24, and her siblings have at times expressed a certain ambivalence about their childhood spent in front of the camera. But she and her mother share a close relationship, living near each other in rural Virginia. Prince spent ten days taking pictures at the Mann farm there, including a shot of Jessie posing with her mother under an antique camera. "I think Jessie views this work as an extension of her life in front of the camera," says Prince. "It's where she was meant to be."

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