Sally Mann’s work is inspiring to any mother that wishes to capture the child’s spirit just as it is. Her startlingly honest black and white portraits are quiet, beautiful, and timeless. When I first saw her photography, I thought her photographs were taken in the 50s or 60s. I was surprised to find out her photos of her children are from the same time-frame that I grew up in. I just know my childhood photos look nothing like this.
Sally Mann, a controversial black and white children’s photographer
Born in 1951, Mann has been a photographer since the mid-70s, her first 1-woman show being in 1977. But she didn’t really see fame until her most famous works from her 65-photo book “Immediate Family”, which was published in 1992. The black and white photography in the book is of her three children, who were all under the age of 10 when the photos were taken. The photos were mostly taken at the family’s remote summer cabin along the river, where the children played and swam in the nude. “Many explore typical childhood themes (skinny dipping, reading the funnies, dressing up, vamping, napping, playing board games) but others touch on darker themes such as insecurity, loneliness, injury, sexuality and death.” There was controversy about the nudity of some of the photography, but Mann defended herself, stating that her photographs are “natural through the eyes of a mother, since she has seen her children in every state: happy, sad, playful, sick, bloodied, angry and even naked.” But critics supported and loved her work.
When Time magazine named her “America’s Best Photographer” in 2001, it wrote:
Mann recorded a combination of spontaneous and carefully arranged moments of childhood repose and revealingly — sometimes unnervingly — imaginative play. What the outraged critics of her child nudes failed to grant was the patent devotion involved throughout the project and the delighted complicity of her son and daughters in so many of the solemn or playful events. No other collection of family photographs is remotely like it, in both its naked candor and the fervor of its maternal curiosity and care.
Would you do what Mann did?
What do you think about Mann’s work? Would you be bold enough to share your family photos, even the most intimate ones, with the world? I don’t think I could, but I still love her work. It’s so beautiful and real. So timeless in it’s essence. Enjoy some of her most famous works from her 65-photo book “Immediate Family”, which was published in 1992:
Click to view our own work of children’s black and white portraits.