Contextual research LO3 Sally Mann

The top section of this post has been written on 21.02.2021 the second section is being reposted from Inspiration or coincidence ? 06.07.2019 and the third section reposted from 06.08.2019

During the first module of the MA one of the first books I was recommended to look at , one of the first photographers my work was compared to, was Sally Mann. I bought her book ‘Immediate Family’ soon after this, and have both compared my work to hers on numerous occasions throughout the MA and taken subconscious inspiration from her work on many occasions I believe. I think she is one of those photographers whom, if you work with children you can’t help but take influence from her work, either directly or indirectly.

Looking through the book again today, I struggle to see the similarities between Mann’s work and my own . I understand peoples ‘go-to’ thoughts are that my work is of the same nature of Mann’s; Yes I do include my children in my own work, and yes I take inspiration from our lives together, but that is where the similarities end, and really when all you are saying is that you are both working with young people and both happen to be mothers that isn’t a lot.

Due to her camera choices, I don’t believe many of Mann’s images could of been un-staged or spur of the moment. The images that do look un-staged happen when the children are asleep, when a mother has the luxury of time on her side. Her stronger photos are undoubtedly the ones that are noticeably staged, the ones where the child is placed in a scene and keeps a piercing, somewhat uncomfortable gaze with the viewer. We are intruding, and those children know it. They feel it and we feel it. I have very few images of my children looking directly at the camera, and even less so that I use in my projects. I am reminded here of Sontag’s much overused quote here –

“To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them they can never have.”

Sontag, Susan. pg4

These images don’t, I believe make the viewer uncomfortable simply because the children are naked in many of them (although that doesn’t help) , but I believe it is much more than that. It is the fact that these children are/were naked in their family home, totally at ease in their private spaces, we intruded on them there and they saw us. These are just normal every day moments.

One could ask how my project differs then, and of course all artists will make excuses for their own work to justify it in their own heads. To me, my work is different as it talks of the philosophy of education, why should this subject be anymore acceptable than the subject of the privacy of a home? Maybe it is because Mann’s children were not aware these images were going to be used for this purpose when they were being taken. They were just being photographed by their mother. Mann states she chose these images with her children and they consented to the ones used years later when the book was released. This may well be true, but as a mother of three boys , two of whom are now grown, I find it hard to imagine a situation where either of them would be happy for my to publish a picture of their genitals , and certainly no scenario where I would wish too, or couldn’t find a similar image or one I could use as a substitute, after all, family moments are made up of millions of very similar moments, how many images do we have of our children eating an ice-cream, wearing high heels, eating fruit and making a mess? I can’t see how the message of childhood that is inherent in these images couldn’t be shown in another way, in another image. As I have stated previously, if lots of these images were staged, why not simply pull the bed sheet over your daughter slightly who has wet the bed so that you show the scene as it was, with all those connotations, but with respect.

Again, this brings me to Bright’s comments in Motherlode

“The roles of good mother, and successful artist are often seen as polar opposites. Motherhood is considered to be a precious, almost sacrosanct state, and as a result the mother-artist figure generates anxiety – especially when she involves her own children in her work – because she is assumed to have abrogated her parental responsibility.”

(Bright, 2013: pg 19)

Maybe, that is where I struggle, it isn’t that I feel Mann “abrogated” the mother role as Bright points to above, but that the images seem to me lacking in respect in certain aspects. I try to ensure when I photograph my own children, and others, that there is always a respect there. I respect their space and their autonomy, not just in the fact they are their own individual beings in charge of their bodies and how they are viewed and where, but as an adult that has a deeper understanding of the world than they do at the point the image is taken.

As a photographer of children, we must be aware that we hold the ‘power’ in that situation, and I believe, do everything we can to give that power to the children, our subjects, or to exercise it with caution, and deep regard for them what remains ours.


Inspiration or coincidence ? 06.07.2019

The struggle of looking at other photographers, and reading about other photographers is real.

Today I took photographs of our children, enjoying the sunshine as they always wood. My brother had cut the grass earlier in the day. Because of this, and the water fights, grass stuck to my son. I photographed a moment as it happened. Nothing was staged, nothing was planned, I just took the shot as I was, from where I was. I walked closer to him yes, to frame it, but that is it.

I edited in a way true to my editing technique.


Where is the line? It’s all blurred into one. Inspiration? Coincidence? All children after all will experience similar things. Happy accident? OR was I channeling what I have seen in MANN’s book immediate family?

Mann, Sally. Falling child. 1989. [ from the book immediate family]

Sourced from the NY TIMES [ first accessed 06.07.2019 ]

Fig 1, Mann, Sally. 19mag-19mann.t_CA4-jumbo-NEWYORK_TIMES


Inspiration or coincidence ? MA PHOTOGRAPHY FALMOUTH
fig 2, Graham, Bekkie. 2019. Inspiration or coincidence ? MA PHOTOGRAPHY FALMOUTH
Inspiration or coincidence ? MA PHOTOGRAPHY FALMOUTH
Fig 3, Graham, Bekkie 2019. Inspiration or coincidence ? MA PHOTOGRAPHY FALMOUTH

Week 10 : Responding to photographs. Sally Mann & Tierney Gearon


So heres an interesting story. My boys are at their Japanese lesson. I am in Mcdonalds waiting for them, with my two other children. The kids are playing on their games. I am working. I took a photograph for my IG feed, where I am sharing the reality behind HOW I am managing to get this MA work done, whilst home educating four children, and running my own business.

This is basically a light hearted feed, showing me working in places ranging from hospitals, to my bed, to mcdonalds, kids usually in tow.

But today …. today I uploaded and then deleted the image I had taken of me reading the sally Mann interview in the NYT off of IG ; because WHAT would my peers think of me having this article open in Mcdonalds ? Is this appropriate. Forget about Mann’s photographs for a second, is just the act  of viewing these images that accompanied this article, in Mcdonalds with families around appropriate. Ironic given I was indeed surrounded by families, and that is the subject of Mann’s photographs.

I stopped watching the video.

Because although faced towards the window, I became acutely aware of a feeling within me, that actually, this wasn’t appropriate. Thats not to say it is or it isn’t appropriate, just what it felt to me. I have sally Manns book Immediate family. I adore her images. I question her forethought definitely in publishing some of them, Yes I believe they are art, and beautiful, but quite simply I wouldn’t publish images like that of my children. But context, was the world the same in the 80’s and 90’s as it is now?

In a Mcdonalds where every single table is full of parents, grandparents, and children, where all would of taken images of their kids in baths, playing in the garden with sprinklers, chasing each other naked around the house, akin to Mann’s I had this overriding feeling…

This just was just not appropriate.

and that, as an artist, and as a mother is scary.

Sally Mann New York times article 2015
Fig 4, Mann, Sally. The New York times. April 16th 2015. first accessed 06-08-2019



Fig 1, Mann, Sally. Falling child. 1989. [ from the book immediate family] TIMES [ first accessed 06.07.2019 ]

Fig 2, Graham, Bekkie 2019. Inspiration or coincidence ? MA PHOTOGRAPHY FALMOUTH

Fig 3, Graham, Bekkie 2019. Inspiration or coincidence ? MA PHOTOGRAPHY FALMOUTH

Fig 4, Mann, Sally. 16.04.2015. The New York times. The cost of Sally Mann’s exposure. Available (first accessed) 06-08-2019


Bright, Susan. 2013. Home Truths – Motherlode. Art books, the photographers gallery; London.

Mann, Sally. 2014. Immediate Family. Aperture ; New york.

Sontag, Susan. 2008. On photography. Penguin; London.


Mann, Sally. The New York times. April 16th 2015. Available at first accessed 06-08-2019

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This blog is written as part of my studies on the Falmouth University photography ma, an accredited educational programme.