Fine Art Fridays | Sally Mann

I don’t think anyone can argue that Sally Mann’s portraits of her own children are beautiful, touching, emotive, haunting, playful and provocative.  She uses a large format camera in the lush landscape of rural Virginia.  Here is some information from Wikipedia on her body of work, “Immediate Family”, that I am most drawn to:

Mann is perhaps best known[9] for Immediate Family, her third collection, published in 1992. The NY Times said, “Probably no photographer in history has enjoyed such a burst of success in the art world.”[3] The book consists of 65 black-and-white photographs of her three children, all under the age of 10. Many of the pictures were taken at the family’s remote summer cabin along the river [In Virginia – notice the lush landscape], 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.

bbbc20a23495bbe4b91a52f1bd426b72PIN© Sally MannPIN© Elizabeth Clark PhotographyPIN© Sally MannPINPIN

© Elizabeth Clark PhotographyPINLeft, © Elizabeth Clark Libert; Right, © Sally MannPIN

© Elizabeth Clark Photography

Her work has always met controversy too, due to the inclusion of her children in the nude:

Negative criticism of Mann’s works is not hard to find. One man, Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network, was against Mann’s photographs. He believes that parents should do everything in their power to protect, shelter, and nurture their children. He says that “selling photographs of children in their nakedness for profit is an exploitation of the parental role and I think it’s wrong.”

Personally, I have to disagree.  While I understand that there may be people out there who view the photographs for an unsavory reason, I think that the photographic exploration of the human experience is bound to include nudity.  Children are not an exception, and I think that some of the most powerful and honest images are those that show children in their natural state.  There is that fine line between what is exploitative and what is not, and frankly pretty much any documentary photographer, filmmaker, or writer is bound to exploit their subjects.  It is the essence of what they are doing, bringing the inside world to light for the public to see, with the hope of universal enlightening.cde858bdc1e476c28cf76d2a3aaa88c5PIN© Sally MannPIN

© Elizabeth Clark PhotographyPIN© Sally Mann

When it comes to Mann’s work  it simply boils down to this with me : her images are beautiful and powerful.  I think it is important to capture children not always smiling for the camera, but instead interacting with each other and their natural environment.  My favorite images in most family portfolios are those that include a more raw and honest element – and this year I have made it a goal to get more images like these.  To see more of her fascinating work, visit her website: or this great reference site: