Term Paper: Sally Mann

Pages: 10 (2833 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Children  ·  Buy This Paper

Sally Mann was born in Lexington, Virginia, in 1951 and is largely recognized as one of the most influential photographers in the U.S. In order to gain a better understanding of her life and the messages she wanted to express one needs to focus on her thinking in general, as her works, taken individually, cannot provide information concerning the artist's life. It is impressive that her works are not just 'beautiful', they are striking and it practically seems that they challenge viewers to get actively involved in discussing them. Her works are thus impressive both through their beauty and because of the thoughts they induce in individuals looking at them.


Mann took her first photography class at Putney School, in Vermont, and stayed there from 1966 until 1969. According to a series of interviews, one of the main reasons why she joined the school was to be able to spend more time with her boyfriend in the darkroom. Mann was interested in art as a whole, as she received a bachelor in English and creative writing as a result of attending and graduating from Hollins College in Roanoke, Virginia, in 1974. She continued her studies and earned a master's degree in writing after a year of graduating from Hollins College (Sally Mann).

Even with her initial failure to comprehend the connection she had with the world of photography, she later acknowledged her skills and her experience at Putney reflected on debut gallery "with a nude image of a classmate at Putney, and nudes, along with landscape and the exploration of adolescence, became one of the bases for subsequent bodies of work." (Sally Mann) the 1970s can largely be considered to be a period in which Mann experienced a maturing process. She initially focused on still life and then started to introduce elements involving portraits. Even though she produced a series of works involving landscapes and architecture, it was not until later in her life that she acknowledged that her calling did not involve still life (Gaogosian Gallery).

Immediate Family

Mann did not find her true passion until she the 1980s and this is reflected by the moment when she published "At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women" in 1988. She concentrated on working on the "Immediate Family Series" between 1984 and 1994, a series that focused on her three pre-adolescent children. Emmet, Jessie, and Virginia were shot at the family's summer cabin. It is probable that the fact that Mann photographed her children in Lexington, Virginia, played an important role in making her feel that she was reproducing parts and feelings from her own childhood (Auping 259).

Mann's photographs are presumably meant to discuss the complex experiences that children go through as they grow up. "At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women" is actually meant to provide society with the ability to understand children better and to focus on elements that influence them to take on certain behaviors. This work sparked some controversy as it seemed that the masses were not prepared to deal with such ideas and as some even believed that Mann got involved in discussing ideas that she had a limited understanding of. This particular series was meant to provide viewers with the reality that girls had trouble finding their personal identity as they became adolescents and as society had a general tendency to confuse them (Higonnet 404).

The work resulting from her photographing her children during the 1880s and early 1990s is displayed in the monograph she published in 1992, "Immediate Family." The series "includes sixty black -- and white photographs and an introductory text written by Mann" (Auping 259). The New Mothers photograph in the series shows Mann's two daughters, Jessia and Virginia as they stand in a seductive pose, with this picture putting across feelings related to nostalgia and a strange form of eroticism. This portrayal puts across a romantic and fleeting idea concerning childhood as the two children are shown in a summer setting standing barefoot outside and holding baby dolls in an attempt to emphasize them pretending to be mothers. This photograph is especially intriguing because most viewers seeing it are likely to express familiarity concerning how the girls must have felt, as it is common to see a child pretending to be a parent or actually having been through an experience involving you, as a child, trying to pose into a mature individual taking care of a baby.

Many might interpret New Mothers as displaying children with attitudes no different from the ones that most children put across. However, upon further analysis one is probable to understand that Mann actually wanted to add drama to the photograph by displaying her children in uncharacteristic poses and by revealing a rather immoral side of childhood. Photographic innocence is certainly not a dominant factor in Mann's photography, taking into account that she wants to put across strong messages concerning the complex nature of childhood (Suny Series in Psychoanalysis and Culture: Feminine Look: Sexuation, Spectatorship, Subversion).

The introductory text of "Immediate Family" says "Many of these pictures are intimate, some are fictions and some are fantastic, but most are of ordinary things every mother has seen -- a wet bed, a bloody nose, candy cigarettes." (Auping cited Mann, 259) What most people fail to see is the philosophical message that Mann was concerned about putting across through these photographs. Mann's photographs actually provide information regarding how parents can become better able to deal with cultural anxieties revolve around connections between children, photography, and children's understanding of what is happening around them.

The world's understanding of children

Society came to acknowledge a more modern understanding of children ever since photography was invented. Children were chosen to pose nude in photographs since the field's early ages. The fact that they feel less inclined to put across ideas related to pretending they are someone else makes children appear to be more natural. The connection between childhood and photography makes it possible for the world to be provided with unique concepts concerning ideas that are brought back to life.

People had a limited understanding of thinking and behavior seen in children up to the seventeenth century and before this time period individuals generally had the tendency to think of children as being no different from adults, as they were apparently only smaller and less experienced. "This perception reveals itself both through visual imagery from the period that portrays children, dressed like adults, participating in adult activities, as well as in the lack of cultural artifacts designed specifically for children." (Friedlander 93)

It was not until the middle of the eighteenth century that children started to be looked at from a different perspective. Photography played an important role in shaping society's image of children as photographers during the nineteenth century focused on providing the world with images of the archetypal innocent child. The masses were also inclined to consider that photography was a truthful art because it provided a true and impartial portrayal of the idea of childhood. Photography practically made it possible for the concept of Romantic childhood to appear as being perfectly normal (Friedlander 94).

Mann's effect on the world

By considering children from a perspective involving their general image throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century, most would be inclined to think about them as being innocent and almost angelic individuals. This makes it possible for someone to understand why Mann's works proved to be as controversial as they were when they first got out. Mann's photographs influenced most of the world to consider her to be the perfect example of bad motherhood. "We are uncomfortable with her scratching, wetting, charming Virginia who plays in the dirt, gets hangnails, holds weasels, wears eye makeup, collects morels, isn't afraid to get near tobacco spit, and sleeps as if dead with the ancient, wrinkled, arthritic Virginia who raised her mother." (Mavor 26) Jessie is shown biting her mother while Emmet holds two dead squirrels. All of these images sicken most viewers and generates a lot of anger.

Society feels that Mann performed an injustice to children by failing to show them as what they truly are: innocent. This woman is likely to be categorized by many as being an irresponsible mother and, in general, as a person who wants to profit as a result of the fact that the world loves extraordinary stories. Some have even went as far as to criticize Mann's work as containing elements related to pedophilia and sadism (Mavor 26).

Many are probable to think of Mann's portraits as being violent and exploitative, as the artist presumably tried to express her thoughts with no regard to the negative effects that her behavior would have on her children and on society in general. The fact that Mann had the courage to act in disagreement with moral codes that the world has promoted for the last centuries triggered serious controversy and encouraged many to get actively involved in criticizing her work and in largely condemning portrayals of children involving… [END OF PREVIEW]

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