At twelve, Mann, Sally, Aperture


Immediate Family, Mann, Sally, Aperture (2005)


The media students book, Branston, Gill and Stafford, Roy, Routledge, fourth edition (2006)


Interviews in magazines


Aperture no. 162, Daughter, Model, Muse Jessie Mann on being photographed


Websites. {accessed on the 12th october} {accessed on the 12 october} {accessed on the 15th october} [Accessed on 10th November 2010] {accessed on the 5th november} {accessed on the 5th november} {accessed on the 7th november} {accessed on the 25th october} {accessed on the 22 october} {accessed on the 2nd of november} {accessed on the 8th november} {accessed on the 8th of noember} {accessed on the 8th of november}


Documenteries/ TV shows


Blood Ties – The Life and Work of Sally Mann (1993) Directed by Steven Cantor and Peter Spirer. America: Moving Target Productions

Charlie Rose with Winston S. Churchill III; Robert Shiller; Sally Mann (2006) America: Charlie Rose, Inc.

What Remains: The Life & Work of Sally Mann (2008) Directed by Peter Spirer and Steven Cantor. America: Zeitgeist Films

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Critical Review – Sally Mann

Immoral or Maternal?

Jessie, Emmett and Virginia - immediate family

Sally Mann is one of photography’s most acclaimed artist’s, and through her work of portraiture has captured beautiful, mystical and provoking images. Her series ‘Immediate family’, released in 1989, caused much controversy over the content of that series. The images contained snapshots of her children living out their lives. Yet these images sometimes depicted bloody, sometimes dirty and sometimes nude scenes, which raised alarm in the photography world, which in turn made everyone think of the works as pedophiliac. Some critics agreed and some disagreed, in this review I will look into both sides of the argument, and come to a conclusion.

The images are dark, leaving lots to the imagination, however what is clear is her use, or exploitation, of her children. The focus is clearly on them, and with this comes things that arguably shouldn’t be seen by people outside of the family. The camera doesn’t shy away from Emmett’s bloody nose, or Virginia when she wets the bed, instead it captures it, and in doing so almost is saying something about Sally Mann as a mother. These actions or happenings are private ‘functions’ that every mother and father see, however a mother that shows this to the world could be seen as not brave, but immoral. Pat Robinson, a critic and writer, stated “Selling photographs of children naked for profit is immoral”, which is quite true isn’t it?! Arguably Mann is the mother of these children, and so in turn can choose what is right for them, however showing a child at a low point as these images do surely is immoral.

In an interview with Jessie Mann she states “It seems like she is overwhelmed with this feeling of love and she doesn’t know what to do with it, so she photographs it”. This is very confusing, although many of the images with the immediate family series are staged, in a situation where one’s child has a bloody nose, the first thing you would do wouldn’t be to grab one’s camera and photograph it. Surely if this is Sally Mann’s idea of love, she is very mistaken to what love is, and how she goes about showing this love and care for her children.


Emmett's Bloody Nose - immediate family

Although these idea’s are strong and very powerful, and thought by many parent’s, art critics and so forth, the images themselves do hold a ‘loving feel’, a ‘maternal feel’. The images do reflect those that lie in one of our family photo albums tucked away on our top shelf. Its the way in which the photo’s are taken which imply so much more. For instance, the use of black and white immediately gives your imagination fuel to over-think things, the graininess of the image adds more mystery to this. However under all of these techniques and styles Sally Mann uses, the photo’s are in fact images of her children, a part of her, people that she has nurtured and watched grow up, and whom she loves. These facts are clear in her images, although on the surface some look quite distasteful, after reading behind the initial visuals the relationship between Sally and her children is visible. They love to be photographed and play up to the camera, as all children do.

“We enjoyed being photographed. It gave us a sense of                                             beauty”

Although it was the immediate family series that caught the negative attention of so many, these weren’t the only images of children Sally Mann has taken, her at 12 series looks at young girls in their most formative years. Yet nothing was mentioned about these, agreed they don’t depict nearly the same kind of images in immediate family, but then surely looking at Sally Mann’s work as a whole shows us that she isn’t immoral, or doesn’t understand the boundaries that she is allowed to explore within, instead it shows a photographer who is a loving mother who in turn is in love with photography and wishes to explore the possibilities of it.

Juliet in the Chair - At 12

Sally Mann’s immediate family series will always provoke argument, and everyone will hold conflicting ideas on the images, however I believe Mann to be a good mother. The children were highly involved with the creative process which occurred and from the interview and research I have done, it is clear to me, that they enjoyed themselves. I believe this was a project between a mother and her children, and due to the process being placed into the limelight with its success, received raised eyebrows because of the confident nature of the project. I have looked at these photographs for ten weeks, and now I look through and I see it as a family album, yes the images are extreme but they still hold a tenderness that isn’t achieved in any of Sally Mann’s other works. I believe the images are maternal, and if people disagree then that is acceptable, but over this research process I have become quite strong in my thoughts on the subject. The argument will never be concluded as with new people comes new idea’s.

Popsicle drops - immediate family

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Writing Plan for the Critical Review

I am coming to the end of my Blog, studying and researching into the ‘Emmett, Jessie and Virginia’ image. The end process is a critical review where the question is up to me to decide on. It has to be 800-1000 words.

Sally Mann – Immoral or Maternal?

Emmett, Jessie and Virginia

This will be the subject/question that I will base my critical review on.

Key argument

I will begin my argument by constructing for the side of Sally Mann’s images being immoral. To construct this side of the argument i will use the sources I have found through m research, looking at Pat Robinson’s quote “Selling photographs of children naked for profit is immoral”. I will also be looking at what Jessie Mann said in her interview that i studied in my blog as well. I will also touch on the similarities of Man Ray’s and Sally Mann’s images, comparing the sexual nature between the images.

Counter Key argument

On the other side of the argument, arguing that the images are maternal, that they are photo’s taken by a loving mother, i will also be using the information gathered in my blog to help me construct a more positive view on Sally Mann. Jessie Mann’s interview will be used on this side of the argument as well, using quotes and ideas raised from that particular entry. I’ll also be looking at the techniques Sally Mann uses to create such images. Ill then involve her other pieces of work, helping to show what her other work is like, to construct an idea of her work as a whole, not just as individuals, or indeed as series’.

Summarise and Conclude

Due to the very limited amount of words, my conclusion will be quite short, and hopefully sweet. In this i will look over the points and hopefully come to my own conclusion of her works and come to a conclusion on that particular image.


Aperture no. 162, Daughter, Model, Muse Jessie Mann on being photographed.

At 12, Mann, Sally, Aperture (accessed 23rd november)

Immediate Family, Mann, Sally, Aperture (2005) (accessed 23rd November)

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Research Findings

This blog, as a whole, has been very interesting and mildly entertaining. Over the course of the last 9 weeks I have been posting all on Sally Mann, through which I have discovered lots and almost come to the stage of understanding her work.

The image itself is provocative, three topless children, two girls and one boy, and it was taken by their mother. One of the main arguements that kept cropping up again and again throughout my research was the argument of whether the images were moral. Many critics argued that any mother exposing their children’s bodies for photographs, with profit in mind, is immoral. However some argued the images were merely more than family photo’s, that the images were a mothers take on her children growing up.

Therefore one potential argument is ‘Maternal or immoral’ – The exploration of Sally Mann’s view.

Another argument which I decided to explore within my blog was the question of ‘Does taking intimate images of children make them less sexual?!’. I attacked this question within my blog so therefore answering it again would arguably be a bit pointless. However the argument above is the main underlying argument surrounding Sally Mann’s work so understanding this, I feel I have to write about this argument in my Critical Review.

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At 12

Sherry and granny, at 12, Sally Mann

“The images in the series and subsequent publication At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women (1988) capture the confusing emotions and developing identities of adolescent girls.”

(, accessed on the 16 november)

The series of images in ‘At 12’ are of interest to me as they were the works of Sally Mann previous to the ‘immediate family’ series. Within this series of images she looked at young girls, all in there teens, mainly twelve years old. I am interested in this series for several reasons, however the main one is the way she took the photo’s of these young girls and the contrast between the images in this series compared to the ‘immediate family series.

Untitled, At 12, Sally Mann

“These photographs offer a subtle and knowing visual statement about that most poignant and vulnerable time, when girls become women.”

(Robert Coles,  psychiatrist and photographic critic)

The images look at young girls in their formative years, and the way in which Sally Mann looks at this is very interesting. You are almost amazed at how young the model’s are, they almost come across much older than we know they are. Within most of the images we get a sense of how each child has been unloved, their facial expressions are cold, and in a lot of the pictures they are alone. In alot of the images their faces are covered, or not shown, this is true with the top image, ‘sherry and granny’. Within this image, we only see Sherry’s torso to high thigh, cutting off her face, however in the image their is a photo of her granny at a similar age. This makes the reader think about what the model will look like, and whether she looks like her granny?! From the composition of the image we gain an understanding that Mann is less interested in the faces of her models, and more so in the body language they express. This is one thing which can definitely said about the images in ‘immediate family’.

Juliet in the Chair, at 12, Sally Mann

It is obvious when looking at the series as a whole Mann’s interest was documenting the development stage of a girls primitive years, into a women. The series that consist of 36 images, look at how girls at girls that age look, what they are like, and even perhaps what they feel. The images definitely hold a sexual feel to them, this is created both with the lighting and the body language. The images also lack the sense of fun, that the ‘immediate family’ images hold, within the ‘At 12’ series there is never any footballs, prams with dolls in or candy cigarettes. Also the girls within these images have a well-groomed look to them, compared to the ‘natural’ look her own children sport in the ‘immediate family’ series.

porterfield and a tree, At 12, Sally Mann

This image is one of only three black girls within the series. This one is of interest as the face is covered, which makes it hard to really tell what age this person is. Also with her outfit, you wouldnt say this was a twelve year old. This could be an example of Mann trying to show development or ‘growing up’ within someone.

“I saw her eye there, peeking at me through a tiny chink in the foliage – cautious, the only sign of a child’s curiosity. She had come out of her apartment dressed as if she were on her way to a job interview. I was confounded by her reserve and composure. I couldn’t imagine what picture I would take midday, midsummer, of this girl more woman than I… We did not speak. She stood absolutely still, only the veiled eye shifting in the still heat.”

(taken from, accessed on the 16th November 2010)

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Study diary 4

After looking at more theory and analysis techniques, I feel much more certain on my views of Sally Mann and am exited about the research process again. I felt that semiotics was much more helpful than Binary oppositions, as it provoked more thought on her work, but both were helpful.

To continue my research process, I want to learn more about Sally Mann herself, so i will look at her biography and history, and see if that brigs anything new to the table. I will also be looking at the ‘at 12’series that she produced, as that also has children as the focus of the series. I will also be looking at one more analysis technique, which hopefully cement my opinions on Sally Mann’s work.

Overall i think my research is going well, and I have covered a large array of topics and ideas, and hopefully this will show in my conclusion of this process. With a few more topics to look at, i think my project is slowly coming to an end.

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