Following my presentation on the work of Larry Clark and Sally Mann I have uploaded a copy of my script:
“Hello, welcome to my presentation today. I hope that you will go away in ten minutes times knowing at least something that you didn’t know before.
The purpose of today’s talk is to look at the word exploitation and see how the work of practitioners such as Larry Clark, Sally Mann deal with it or how their work can be contextualized within the theme.
A good starting point is to understand the meaning of the word exploitation. The oxford English dictionary describes it as:
use or utilization, especially for profit: the exploitation of newly discovered oil fields.
selfish utilization: He got ahead through the exploitation of his friends.
the combined, often varied, use of public-relations and advertising techniques to promote a person, movie, product, etc.
In other words, does the work of the photographers I am going to talk about show the exploitation of their subjects, with the prime aim to gain profit from the work, or gain fame, or perhaps even infamy? Perhaps their work is self -serving rather than an objective narrative?
The photographers that I was tasked to research were:
- Larry Clark
- Sally Mann
- Elinor Carucci
- Nicholas Nixon
- Nan Goldin
- Diane Arbus
After looking at their works I found that all of them could fit the brief and be shown to be exploitative. For example, the work of Sally Mann provoked debate amongst critics about the intimacy with which she portrayed her children in her series ‘immediate family’.
Sally Mann was born in 1951 in the USA. She photographed her children in their family settings.
Three Graces – Sally Mann – 1994. This image tackles the seemingly taboo and controversial subject of urination. Although a natural bodily function it feels uneasy , we know that everyone does it but do we really need to have images portraying it. Is Sally Mann exploiting her children and their right to bodily privacy by producing such images?
The publication of immediate family in 1992 caused controversy, with many critics, included Americas far religious right. TV evangelist Pat Robertson said to filmmaker Steven Cantor that …”selling photos of children naked for profit is immoral” during a documentary that was being filmed about Mann and her work.
Short Video with Sally Mann
The Wet Bed – Sally Mann- 1987 – Her young daughter asleep , having seemingly wet the bed. In fact the scene was contrived by Sally and is something that every parent has experience of. However it could be argued that a child of that age cannot give informed consent and therefore she is exploiting her child on at least this level.
Mann herself argued against this assumption stating that “. ..Showing my children’s bodies didn’t seem unusual to me. Exploitation was the farthest thing from my mind” She argued “ there was no Internet in those days. I’d never seen child pornography. It wasn’t in peoples consciousness…” (Blake Morrison, The Guardian, Saturday 29 May 2010 – http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2010/may/29/sally-mann-naked-dead – accessed 3 November 2012)
Last Light – Sally Mann
Indeed Sally Mann argues that she sought the consent of her children for all her work, that they were willing participants. Yet certain members or the art establishment as well as the public remained uneasy with the subject matter. One letter to the editor of the New York Times states, “ My outrage is due to Mann’s willingness to exploit her children in ways that clearly jeopardize their emotional growth” . This clearly demonstrates the feeling of unease that many felt when viewing her work.
Although Sally Mann has argued that she was viewing her children from her perspective, that being a mother, she has been quoted with saying that she “likes pushing buttons”
Edward de Grazia, a professor at Benjamin Cardoza School of Law in New York and the author of “Girls Lean Back Everywhere,” United States. Supporter of Mann’s work.
Argued that she has a right under the First Amendment to create and exhibit her work without the fear of prosecution.
Citing the fact that federal laws in the USA can mean that it is an serious offence and he argues that Sally Mann, alongside other contemporaries are creating art and therefore should be exempt. Does this then mean that we can call anything art and expect to be outside the law?
Isn’t work like this entitled to be protected under the First Amendment?” (The Disturbing photography of Sally Mann By Richard B. Woodward Published: September 27, 1992 http://www.nytimes.com/1992/09/27/magazine/the-disturbing-photography-of-sally-mann.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm accessed 04/11/12. ) ]
[“The child pornography laws, especially the Federal laws, are very dangerous for artists like Sally,” he says. “She’s working under an inchoate threat. Any Federal prosecutor anywhere in the country could bring a case against her in Virginia and not only seize her photos, her equipment, her Rolodexes, but also seize her children for psychiatric and physical examination. No artist should have to live under that kind of a threat.”
De Grazia says: “What makes Sally such a good case is that right now her work deals squarely with this taboo subject of nude children. There isn’t the slightest question that what she’s doing is art, so her motives and the artistic value would be unmistakable to the Supreme Court. Her work would highlight the vagueness and overbreadth of the child pornography laws. Isn’t work like this entitled to be protected under the First Amendment?” (The Disturbing photography of Sally Mann By Richard B. Woodward Published: September 27, 1992 http://www.nytimes.com/1992/09/27/magazine/the-disturbing-photography-of-sally-mann.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm accessed 04/11/12. ) ]
(scored through was not used in my presentation.)
Another practitioner that I feel particularly fits the brief is Larry Clark
Clark was born in Tulsa Oklahoma in 1943. He began taking photographs from an early age and he was involved with the family photography business by the time he was 13 years old. By the time he reached the age of 16 he had started injecting amphetamines.
Although Larry Clark deals with the imagery that is controversial, the same as Sally Mann. I found that Sally Mann appears to be more of an observer, a mother watching the maturing of her children, from behind a lens. Whereas around the time that Clark was shooting, he was actively participating in the culture that he was portraying.
His first book Tulsa was published in 1971 and challenged peoples perceptions of youth within a traditional, all American town. He showed young people engaging in sex, drugs and firearms..
This image, untitled 1971, from the book Tulsa, shows a pregnant woman sitting in a chair, injecting amphetamines.
Ken Johnson of the New York Times states that although the image is striking and disturbing. He asks the question that has plagued photographers, especially those who provide documentary style images. At what point should the photographer stop being an observer and step in to prevent harm to others. Do the obligation to help those in harms way or is it more important from a narrative point of view to take the shot, however disturbing.?
This image shows a young couple engaging in sexual activity whilst injecting themselves with drugs.. Martin Parr and Gerry Badger argue that ….” the sleazy aspect of the lives portrayed…. whether photographed from the ‘inside’ or not — raises concerns about exploitation and drawing the viewer into a prurient, voyeuristic relationship with the work.”
To counter this, Clark stated that he “didn’t take these photographs as a voyeur, but as a participant in the phenomenon” but the fact that he was shooting drug addicts , were they able to give informed consent.
So , to conclude, although both artists would argue that they did not exploit the subjects. It could be argued that they were indeed exploited due to their lack of informed consent.
Sally Mann’s children not being old enough to really understand the implications of what she was publishing and the subjects of Larry Clark, being high on drugs so not being in a coherent state of mind to give proper consent for his documenting their lives.