Over the years I had many short encounters
with the books by Sally Mann. Standing in the bookstore,
I pulled her books out of the shelve,
looked at her masterful photographs and then,
feeling disappointment, reluctantly put them back again.
Americans seem to like cake with a lot of icing. I don´t.
Quite a few of Sally Mann’s photographs have a lot of icing on them:
dramatic black and whites,
naked and beautiful children
in homes too beautiful to be real
or children, naked again,
surrounded by nature looking like paradise.
Apart from the form I was disturbed
to be forced to look at the private parts of young girls.
This made me feel uneasy.
Ute Behrend, a photographer colleague of mine,
and a loving mother of two girls, mentioned Sally Mann´s work admiringly.
She especially referred to Sally Mann’s book “AT TWELVE”,
and Cynthia Henebry also mentions her in one of her interviews.
These two women obviously have no problems
with the nakedness of girls,
and no problems with their private parts exposed to everybody’s gaze.
Both Ute Behrend as Cynthia Henebry look at these girls
depicted by Sally Mann and recognize what they already know.
I am a male, the matter is different for me.
Garry Winogrand brilliantly described my,
a males lustful gaze on women.
And then we look away, not to be caught,
afraid of being offensive.
But girls are forbidden territory.
To look at them as sexual beings is a taboo.
Children have to be protected against anything
that could deeply hurt them for the rest of their lives.
I have shown “At Twelve” to the female participants
of a photography workshop I gave, and also to my partner in life.
Their mutual reaction was that they started to distance
themselves from the images when it became too obvious
to them that Sally Mann is staging her photographs,
that she is directing her girls into poses
that don´t seem to come by naturally.
Some of the images on Sally Manns website my partner simply called stupid.
Other than Jock Sturges, whose work I detest,
Sally Manns photographs are at their best perfectly composed,
intensive and beautiful images about childhood,
a childhood that always seems to be loaded with tension
and sometimes with a hint of possible threats.
I am amazed by Sally Manns mastery
and and also amazed how often she looses balance
falling into to realms of kitsch.
But this might be only a matter of taste, of my taste.
I respect Sally Mann´s work,
I admire the mastery of her successful photographs,
I respect her touching a taboo,
because taboos have to be dealt with openly,
and I respect her doing this in a country
where a self declared moral majority
is hysterically oppressing lifestyles and ideas
that are outside of the boundaries of their comprehension.
I know two little girls, Alina (8) and Naomi (6),
the granddaughters of my partner’s sister.
I am curious how I will perceive them at the age of twelve.