Sally Mann and The Implications of Public Images Featuring Our Nude Children
This week has been a very interesting, to digest the multitude of critical thought was a Pandora box with semblance.
One particular photographer’s critical reflection enabled my own instinctive reflection to emerge in a stronger sense – to the point of why I am here writing about it.
Sally Mann’s decision to display publicly nude photos of her children with their permission divided my thoughts: On the one hand, l can relate to the innocence a parent feels when capturing a state of naturalness moment in his or her child’s life. That natural state of nudity can be in the form of a bath, playing in the fields, eating, crying, basically any moment sans clothing. These moments we cherish because they represent the greatest moments of innocence – free of outsiders’ contrary thoughts. These innocent moments represent what our society has basically lost or never had as a collective, it’s this part of her decision l can relate to. I understand as parent and a member of society although these moments we tend to hold sacred, unshared with the general public for consumption.
On the other hand, Mann’s seeming naivety in thinking that all of society would understand and would appreciate what she sees, what she loves purely. This maybe perhaps is a judgemental and subjective viewpoint but, I think the photographer who engages with family members as subjects will have a blurred or difficult view of critical thinking in regards to its effects on society. Mann’s photos of her children in the nude, engaging in different aspects of life can be viewed differently not only by paedophiles but also but individuals who strive daily to protect children from such members of our society.
Sally Mann’s photographic technique is not a quick family snapshot of moment, it is seemingly methodical, which as she has said, places her first as a photographer then a parent, but if this is so then why did Mann stop at photographing her own children rather than children of others? Such questions only beg to be rhetorical. Is it possible that the photographer is aware of societal boundaries? Aware of what is acceptable in protecting and preserving the rights and innocence of children to remain as children - not enhanced by the visually saturated immorality of modern day images?
We see the same image differently at different times in our lives. Is Mann aware or has she forgotten that an image can mean different things depending on when we view them in our lives? What may seem harmless, okay, acceptable in one moment might be seen as not acceptable or inappropriate later on in life. The photographer by publishing these photographs of her children has robbed them of future moments in private reflection, she has now ‘exposed’ them to the world, whatever challenges they may or may not go through in life maybe at some point, confronted by images of moments that society deems as private, as sacred. This goes beyond children, it also speaks to those who pose nude, their decisions made at a different point in life may not be the same as at a different stage. As photographers or image-makers, we have an unwritten or photographers’ Hippocratic oath to protect our subjects who entrust their image onto us.
Sally Mann’s subtle, and one of her ‘defences’ is that she asked her children permission to publish the images. Either Mann believes blindly in her parental abilities that she has somehow managed to create little adults capable of living life minus parental influences or that her children has convinced her that they are and will be fine in the future with these images depicting their nudity. Either way, I cannot help feel Sally Mann has unwittingly deluded herself in the quest for a place among the notable elite in photography.
MANN, Sally. 2015. ‘Sally Mann’s Exposure’. New York Times.
Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/19/magazine/the-cost-of-sally-manns-exposure.html?_r=2
[accessed on: 16/11/2016]
WOODWARD, Richard B. 2015. ‘The Disturbing Photography of Sally Mann’. The New York Times Magazine. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/19/magazine/the-disturbing-photography-of-sally-mann.html
[accessed on: 23/11/2016]