Phtography Essay

Phtography Essay

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Sally Mann’s photographic work has received both reverence and controversy, most notably her book Immediate Family (1994), which contains nude and suggestive photographs of her three children, has also sparked overwhelming critical discussions and speculation, whilst challenging the prevailing concepts of family and childhood in the United States. Produced immediately after the Reagan revolution, which reinstated family values and a more conventional moral sensibility as vital to the framework of public policy (Berlant, 1997, p. 7), Mann’s work has resulted in her immersed into debates surrounding child pornography, the inversion of familial relationships, motherhood, and conveying a complex notion of the maternal gaze.

Hélène Cixous states that “binary oppositions underline most of Western [philosophical] thought” e.g. male/female, active/passive, natural/unnatural, logical/emotional (Conley, 2000, p.148) which have the effect of forming a set of standardised values within patriarchal society. Conversely, Immediate Family moves towards a state where what is traditionally considered antipodal co-exists, where neither is repressed, and offers an alternatively paradigmatic relationship between binary opposites. In addition to this, by considering Mann's work in terms of Cixous's understanding of the Freudian concept of the Uncanny, a more fluid and permeable reading of Immediate Family can be produced. The Uncanny is characterised by a strangeness that "uncovers what is hidden (anxiety) and by doing so, effects a disturbing transformation of the familiar into the unfamiliar'' (Jackson, 1981, p.65), resulting in an inability to decipher what is considered to be 'real' and what is thought to be 'imaginary'. Mann is known for ten...


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... is ultimately the girl’s subversion of the border dividing life and death. The familiar becomes dauntingly unfamiliar, as with “dreams that slip past our perceptual defences triggering a response but never quite revealing their meaning” (Williams and Newton, 2007, p.207). Subsequently, this expresses a blurring of boundaries and embodies the notion of metamorphosis where divisions cease to be defined. The animation/inactivity duality of the body defies the binary opposites of 'rational' thinking, and in doing so, introduces the Uncanny into this photograph. The more one analyses and observes this photograph, the more it constantly shifts across the prescribed boundaries of illusion and reality, often entering controversial areas. “Winter Squash” demonstrates how Mann takes the viewer from a visual affirmation of childhood and youth, to an inherent fear of death.

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