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November 18, 2008

Sally Mann & the ‘innocence’ of children

by quaesitor

Sally Mann is an extraordinary photographer. But she’s pretty controversial too – because she has shot her children as they have grown up. But my purpose in mentioning it is not to get into all of that. I was just browsing through one of the wonderful Phaidon art intro books – Ian Jeffrey’s The Photo Book. And for the entry on Mann, he includes this famous image:

Emmet, Jessie & Virginia – taken in 1989 (click on photo for a selection of her others)

But what knocked me sideways was Ian Jeffrey’s description of the photo.

In this identity parade of adult attitudes we are confronted by two sirens and a bruiser in friendship bracelets. Each child rehearses adult poses, as if such poses were inherent rather than picked up from the culture at large. In Sally Mann’s explorations of family life she often seems to come across evidence of early maturity such as this. Her findings seem to deny childhood innocence and the idea that humanity is somehow ruined by environmental pressures and adult example. We were not, that is to say, born pure as we would like to imagine, but – instead – we enter life ready for the streets. if we are fallen virtually from birth, the implication may be that that is how we naturally are and that we may be in no need of salvation. All of Sally Mann’s controversial pictures of her children growing up make this largely unacceptable suggestion. Her family portraits are collected in Immediate Family (1992).

Woh! Now you don’t hear many people saying that sort of thing these days – despite a century of 2 World Wars, genocides, rapes, societal breakdown, exploitation and greed etc etc.

Psalm 51:3-5 anyone?

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