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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sally Mann in the NYT

Go read this piece, if you haven't already. It's Sally Mann's piece in the NYT Magazine.

In the 1980s Mann took a bunch of picture of her kids, while they were growing up. Using a view camera to get at those spontaneous instants of childhood. This is manifestly impossible, and people who accomplish that which is obviously not possible are always impressive to me.

Anyways, that's not what I care about. What I care about is that the Manns suffered a more or less predictable backlash because some of the pictures were of children without their clothes on. And, let's be honest, some of the pictures are decidedly sensual. Not, I think, sexual, but decidedly sensual.

These are children, naked, and children are simultaneously unaware of their bodies and in love with them. They are strong, flexible, everything works and nothing hurts. (As a nearly-50 man, I am pretty of jealous of kids.) These are children, engaged in the sort of deeply physical, muddy, often touch-based play that children engage in. Of course the pictures are sensual. They are a celebration of youth and of what defines youth and separates it from not-youth. Of course the pictures are sensual.

I don't mean to justify the work, though. I don't care to and it doesn't need it. If you have a problem with the work, fuck you, you ignorant hick.

We seem to have many kinds of objections:

  • you shouldn't let your children run around nude
  • you shouldn't photograph them nude
  • if you must you shouldn't let anyone else see the pictures of them nude
  • and you most definitely should never ever let a stranger take photos of your kids, nude or not

The last doesn't really apply to Mann's Immediate Family but it's still an idea in play.

There's some combination of straight-up prudishness in play here, obviously (the first bullet point) presumably by people who have not raised kids. Kids are gonna get naked and unless you want to fight a particularly pointless war with them, you're going to cave in and let them run around naked.

There's also a strong sentiment of but the pedophiles will kidnap and rape your children to death. This, interestingly, seems to be utter nonsense.

I admit that this is not a large sample size but the Mann family and the book provide an interesting case study.

One of the most well known photographers in the world produces a book, which sells like hotcakes, one of the best selling photo books ever, a book that is infamous for having pictures of naked children in it. One can hardly imagine that a single actual pedophile in North America was unaware of this book.

The family is easily identifiable, and easy to locate.

The net result? A large number of creepy letters, and one genuinely frightening stalker (who, it happens, seems never to have actually crossed the line in to making threats). While exceedingly unpleasant and frightening for the family -- make no mistake here, they had fears, and those fears were justified -- in the cold light of day, decades down-time, we can count up the number of actual kidnappings and rapes and the number of attempted kidnappings and rapes: Zero (0).

While there is surely an element of genuine concern among the but the pedophiles... crowd one cannot help but think there is also an element of the pedophiles will rape and kill your children, and you will deserve it, because you are a bad person, because you photograph your children without clothes on. Not necessarily in a vindictive way, but in the way that we kind of hope the serial killer in the TV show knocks off another victim, or the way we kind of hope that there will be a crash at the race track.

Certainly pedophiles do, from time to time, kidnap, rape, and kill children. I don't think there's a shred of evidence that they do it based on photographs.

So, again, to all of you who think parents mustn't photograph children in the nude, fuck you, you are an ignorant hick.

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