Book: Sally Mann

Sally Mann, the rectitude and the use of children

Research and presentation: François Spénard

Presented to Groupe Photo de l’Anticafé on January 11, 2018  

In the wake of sexual abuse reports, our discussion focuses on two well-known contemporary photographers: Sally Mann and David Hamilton. Each of them frequently presented nude young girls, it is important to differentiate the artistic vision that a mother transmits with her children to that of an alleged pedophile. How far can the freedom of creation go? Under the pretext of free artistic expression, can one go beyond the limits of the morality of an era? Our analysis of images will be in the context of the time when they were produced.


Sally Mann, born Sally Munger (born May 1, 1951 in Lexington, Virginia, USA), an American photographer whose powerful images of childhood, sexuality and death have often been considered controversial. Mann was introduced to photography by her father, Robert Munger, a doctor who photographed her naked as a young girl. In 1969, as a teenager, she attended Putney School in Vermont. She then spent two years at Bennington College, where she studied with photographer Norman Sieff. Later she will meet Larry Mann, the man who will become her husband. After spending a year in Europe, she graduated from Praestegaard Film School where she studied photography (1974).



Sally Mann’s career

In the 1970s, Sally Mann made her own artistic journey by creating disturbing images of children intimacy and the passage of time. The work develops around themes that are close to her: portraits – those of her children – and landscapes, which seem timeless and invaded by an exuberant nature and full of symbols.

The photographer builds her work by exploring themes both personal and universal: childhood, memory, mortality. The images of her three children, which she put together in 1992 in the book “Immediate Family”, arouse controversy while propelling her to the forefront of the American photographic scene. In the dialogue she sets up between her children and the landscape, the latter will gradually take more of the photographer’s time.

In the 1990s, Sally Mann’s photographs made headlines for portraying her naked children. Presented through the prism of a dubious “outsider”, Mann appeared as alternately imperious and unconscious of the potential objections that some might have to the presentation of her children in the nude.

Mann was initially bogged down in controversy after her series of black and white portraits entitled “Immediate Family” was unveiled in spring 1992 at Houk Friedman, a New York gallery. These photographs caused a sensation because they focused on her three children, who often appeared naked and in postures, situations and scene disturbing for some spectators. Some wondered if Mann had exploited her children, while others wondered if the images were of child pornography. Still others have magnificently praised the collection as an honest exploration of the complexities of childhood.

Launch of the book Immediate Family

In the introduction to her book Immediate Family (1992), Mann writes that “many of these images are intimate … but most are of ordinary moments that every mother have seen. I take pictures when they are bloody, sick, naked or angry. With these staged visual explorations, Mann captured some of the darkest images of childhood and raised some thought-provoking questions.



QUOTE from Edward de Grazia, professor at Benjamin Cardoza Law School in New York: “The laws on child pornography, especially federal laws, are very dangerous for artists like Sally,” he says. “She works under an  inchoate” threat (… of an offense, such as incitement or conspiracy). Any federal prosecutor anywhere in the country could file a lawsuit against her in Virginia and not only seize her pictures, her equipment, her Rolodex, but also arrest her children for psychiatric and physical examination. No artist should have to live under this kind of threat. ”


Change of artistic direction

In the late 1990s, Mann turned her attention to landscape photography, with work from the states of Georgia and Virginia.



Landscapes Photo Collections by Sally Mann





Sally Mann’s works can be seen in art collections from the most prestigious museums, including the New York Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Harvard University Museum, in Cambridge.






David Hamilton’s vision

David Hamilton was a british photographer and film director born in London on April 15, 1933 and died in Paris on November 25, 2016. He was known for his images of young naked girls, but some of his older models say that his motives were far from innocent. His work is mainly composed of photographs of teenage girls in lascivious or romantic poses. During his life time, he published fourteen books, selling almost 1,700,000 copies.

Parents rarely refused when asked if their young children could come in his studio to pose, honored that their child was spotted by a world-renowned artist.

In the 2000s, however, his work went out of fashion; suspected of pedophile inclinations. In the fall of 2016, several women accuse him of having been abused when they were minors. He was found dead a few days later at his home, apparently having committed suicide (he was found with his head covered with a plastic bag).


Flavie Flament : child model

In November 2016, Flavie Flament, a 42-year-old radio and television journalist recently said that Hamilton had raped her 30 years ago when she was 13; it is said she was “devastated” by his suicide and accused him of “cowardice”.

David Hamilton and his Minolta

He has long work with a Minolta SRT 303 and Minolta Rokkor optics.

Hamilton Photo Selection


The photo nudity of Jock Sturges become scandalous in Moscow

Two weeks after its inauguration in Moscow, the photographic exhibition of the american artist Jock Sturges, famous for its clichés of adults and naked naturist children, was closed following a weekend of popular protest. Pedopornography for some, art for others: the question divides.



The Guardian Hold Still by Sally Mann review – a controversial artist’s seductive memoir

Britanica: Sally Mann, American Photographer

Wikipedia David Hamilton

Pure People: Flavie Flament violée à 13 ans : “Ma mère ne fait plus partie de mon existence”

Art Net: Jock Sturges


The author: François Spénard

Photographer and graphic designer for almost 40 years, at ease behind a camera, a drawing table and a computer, as much from an artistic point of view or commercial work. Human being are my passion! Education: Salette College, Ahuntsic College and McGill University. From 1980 to today, 14 solo and group photo exhibitions.

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