Sunday, May 13, 2007

A good mother ...

I’ve been thinking about Sally Mann a lot these last few days.

While I wouldn't say I'm a devotee of her work, I took notice when her "Immediate Family" images first hit the big time in the early '90s, and for the most part, I thought the controversy surrounding them to be more of a sign of the times rather than an indictment of her as a mother.

Child sex abuse scandals that had rocketed through the news and the collective psyche of Americans in the 80s -- first with the Kern County child abuse cases, in which as many as 60 children testified they had been abused in a ritualistic manner by a pedophilic sex ring; and then with the McMartin Preschool trial, in which hysteria and coaching were also evident in children’s testimony –- were winding down.

A new era in parenting styles -- the obsessive protectionist -- had emerged.

And for some, Sally Mann, with haunting monochrome images of her shirtless, pre-pubescent children staring defiantly into the camera -- frozen in a moment where interpretation runs rampant -- didn't fit the new American order: Letting children be children.

Back then I was only a photographer. Now I am a mother.

I'm still not finding myself drawn to Sally Mann’s work for some reason, but I understand the urge to document the beauty that is often unspoken or considered taboo.

I also have no doubt that she made some huge mistakes, as every mother has. I have been told, for instance, that of her three children, it was her son Emmett who fared the worst with the notoriety his mother's camera brought him. He resented her and he resented being known.

I understand that, too.

Nearly two decades out, her work is still sparking venom from people who believe she is a monster. A recent entry in Head Waiter (that I cannot find to reference here, I’m sorry to say) did just that.

But as I was reading that piece, I couldn't help but think of all the things we, as humans, must decide. We must decide about our work, our children’s upbringing, their health, our own well being. We say that children are all important, but aren't we only then teaching them that no one else matters?

That once you have children your lives, your livelihood and your joy (not directly related to them) is over? What about posterity? What about the future?

Life continues for generations, and its impact in art is not only about a single family, it's also about the questions we raise for the society at large, perhaps ad infinitum.

There are many decisions I (and my husband, too) will have to make with respect to our children. We will have to decide personal things about their health care: will they get immunizations? Will our boy be circumcised? We will make decisions that impact their education and social demographic: Will they go to public schools? When will they be allowed to date?

And yes. Their pictures – some of which are beautifully unclothed -- could potentially be all over the universe by they time they give me the glare-y eyeball and tell me (and my camera) to go fug ourselves. Of course these likeness won't necessarily be collected by any famous institutions, but they will be out there. It's what I do. It's part of who I am.

We will make mistakes. We will do the right thing. They may disagree.

We will have to handle it as a family. Not a perfect family, but a family they were born into.


Lisa said...

Great post, but I really wanted to compliment you on the photo. It's stunning.

Anonymous said...

I seen one of Sally Mann’s pictures of Emmett years and years ago in Life Magazine and I can see why Emmett is pissed. My mother once snapped a picture of me when I was about 6 years old on the beach with my toy boat in one hand and me holding my ding-A-ling through my bathing trunks with the other… I hated that photo. Even today if I seen it I would hate it, it embarrassed me tremendously than and it would now.

Now I would not consider that picture a work of art just something my mother thought was cute and funny. Such photos embarrass many children when they get older and they do not care if they are considered ART.

You are a creative individual and I do like most of your photos but that picture you had on your mast head for the holidays of the dog sniffing Annabel’s bottom I thought would be better shared amongst your family and friends, not on the internet.
You posted a statement saying, “Its what I do. Its part of who I am.” The fact is those peoples are out there, so where do YOU draw the line between expressing your ART and possibly putting little Annabel in danger. May I also add that you give out much information about your whereabouts in here and I doubt an unsavory individual could find Emmett from a Life Magazine picture.

When I seen that photo of Emmett in life magazine I thought it was cruel for his mother to make him pose like that, and it was not that reveling. I’m not a complete prude I do consider many exotic nudes artistic, but not children… so it may come down to a matter of taste. I’m sure other mothers post similar picks with the same thoughts as an artistic, beautiful photo… so I say share them with your family or enter them in a gallery but do not put them on the internet.

Maybe I missed your point and I hope you don’t get mad at me, just something I wanted to express to you since the holidays and that photo you used.

Later, Kcoz

toyfoto said...

I don't think you misunderstand at all, Kcoz. We just disagree, which is what makes discussion interesting.

There is the prospect that ANY of these photographs -- and not merely the faceless butt-sniffing dog ones but others, too; one's that are clothed but where she's caught with an awkward expression, or crying or looking silly -- might very well be sources of embarrasment for her later in life, especially if they get into the mainstream, where they would be seen by millions and not just the hundreds that site stats show.

And that's my point. I can't know whether ANY choice I make will be the one that makes her angry and feeling put upon.

All I can do is try to work on our relationship as we go.

I don't believe that photographs are dangerous, however, even though I haven't been publishing any true "nudes" of her now that she's looking more "girly" than "baby."

But whether they are art or not; whether they are embarassing snaps from a point and shoot camera of a moment in time that someone found funny or whether they were set up and styled to look a certain way, doesn't mean they were exploitive.

I think lots of people are confused about photogaphy, we are confused about what is, and we erroniously think it's abuse because we have no idea how to classify it. A child photographed a certain way, in a certain light, with a certain air ... gets interpreted. And yet the crime takes place not in the camera but in the studio. Was this child abused? Exploited? That is where the crime is.

Someone may indeed look at this photograph above do what has been called by some a "loins test: does it make someone hot?"

But someone coming to this photograph and seeing something lacivious doesn't change the fact that it was taken so that all "private" body parts were not visible, by a mother who only sees something amazing and glorious in the human form.

I think we see "naked" and we imediately think "unnatural" because we cannot control other's thoughts. We then turn around and say the pictures are responsible.

Think of this: Gun manufacturers have less culpability in actual physical crimes, and they make implements that are INTENDED to kill things.

Anonymous said...

I did miss you point about the crying, looking silly type embarrassing moments, I guess I became overly concerned with safety and felt that one should not even temp such individuals, and with good reason… take time to read some of the books these FBI profilers have published. “Journey Into Darkness” & “Obsession” by FBI profiler John Douglas are good and so is “The Evil That Men Do” by FBI profiler Roy Hazelwood.

There is no doubt that Sally Mann is an excellent photographer and artist, but I ask as many do was she truly impressed with the human body’s form or was it for Impact? Maybe I need to see more of her work before judging her

I do agree that things are getting out of hand when comparing Art to pornography and I do not consider any of you photos exploitive, you capture reality in a very intense way. I’m sure many like me think that the moment in time when you snap a picture, we would not, thinking it would not make a good picture, but you do and many turn out great. The one you have posted in this post is actually really cute, I’m not even embarrassed by it, and that is because of your angle and focus on her face. Heck it would even make a good bubble bath advertisement if there were some bubbles in it.

So should we all cower in fear or curb our creativity because of the awful acts of a few… or that they may be misinterpreted… I say NO!
But I do think disgression needs to be used here on the Internet when it involves youngins no matter how much the arts must sacrifice, and I’m not talking about censoring the internet.

I need to send you an E-Mail later… something you need to know.