Yingying Xue

CMP-Research and Critical Practice

RD9-The last time Emmet modeled nude

Nude Emmet ( further to Q3 to listed question)

In last entry, I looked into naked photos from Immediate Family generally. The research gives me more idea of why Sally Mann chose to take the photos with her children naked. Now back to the original photo in which Emmett is the only one wears some clothes. Why is that?

In the series of Immediate Family , there are some photos that showed three children in nude. Quite interestedly, Emmett as the only boy of Sally Mann’s three children appeared to be less naked than his two sisters. Not just the photo of Emmett,Jessie and Virginia did Emmett appear with pants. In most occasions, Virginia and Jessie appeared to be wearing nothing and posed to the camera. While Emmet wears pants occasionally and simply just stared to the camera.

(Last time Emmet modeled nude, 1987 , Online Image from : http://www.cvm.qc.ca/mbenoit/mann/mann2.html, accessed on 12th Nov 10) 

Emmet, the only male of the three children, is seen much less provocatively in the series than the girls are. Even in the almost sad titled ‘The last time Emme modeled nude'(above) , he still does not appear completely nude in the photo. In fact, we can only see him from the waist up, his  genitalia obscured by swirling water. Yet when it comes to Jessie or Virginia, Sally Mann exposed their naked bodies completly as if the children didn’t even realise that they are not wearing clothes.

The photo “The Perfect Tomato” below for example, shows young jessie naked and stands on her toes on a table. She is fearless and bravely showing her naked body even with Virginia and the other unidentified person in front of her. Although the photo is titled with “The Perfect Tomato”, one tends to pay more attention to the naked Jessie because the rest of the photo apart from nude Jessie is in dark shadow.

(The Perfect Tomato,1990,http://rachelhulin.com/blog/wp-content/images/assets_c/2008/09/gpc_work_large_928-thumb-573×454.jpg, accessed on 11th Nov 10)

This also brings up another topic of focusing. In the book of < The Nature of Photographs> by Stephen Shore. He pointed out that amidst the infinity of potential images, both real and imagined, the photographer has four – and only four – formal tools for defining a picture’s content and organization: vantage point, frame, focus and time. The set up and effect of <The Perfect Tomato> showed focus of Jessie Mann more than anything else as if Sally Mann took the photo in a purpose.

In the photo of Sunday Funnies(below), again, focused on a more mature body of Jessie Mann. In this photo, Emmet again wears a short and simply is just looking at the camera, almost resentful in the way that he is being depicted.. Although Jessie and Virginia are both naked in bed, Virginia is kind of in the shadow and bit blur. It immediately drew the attentions of viewers to naked Jessie.

(Sunday Funnies, 1991, http://phillipsdepury.com/auctions/lot-detail.aspx?sn=UK040108&search=&p=3&order=&lotnum=235 , accessed on 12th Nov 10) 

I couldn’t help but wondering how Emmet coped and how he grew up with his two sisters naked bodies. It is very unusual as growing up in a rural country myself, I can understand children going naked at young age. We girls at 4 or 5 years old would only wear pants, but not nothing when you reach this certain ages. Even boys would seldom appear naked at home as they grow up. Is it because the boy himself is quite annoyed  and shy to participate in naked or simply because Sally Mann does not want to reveal a naked body of a male. The following source also explains:

The image’s meaning changes when the artist is a woman, and the subject is male. It has the tendency to become distinctly more sexual, and in turn, comes more under fire than the female/female exchange. sourced from: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2009/11/theory-sally-manns-immediate-family.html, accessed on 12th Nov 10       

On the other hand, the photo above shows the modestly and uncertainty that Emmet felt about his modeling. In an interview that an older Jessie Mann gave to Aperture magazine, she tells how Emmet is dealing with the pressure that he is put under from the photographs of his youth.

“Emmet is completely daunted by it. He doesn’t know what he wants, so he backs away from the whole thing” (Jessie Mann).

This feeling is easily discernible in the images of him, and can explain why he appears nude much less than the girls. Being the only boy and sensitive, Emmet was less involved than his sisters in the work of Sally Mann. It also opens up an entire line of questioning the gender issue when dealing with Mann’s work. Some would question why Emmet as the only male is placed in the middle of the photo. This could involve a further contention over feminism.

From my point of view, the stage is simply for a better frame. Because there are two girls and one boy, a photographer will instantly place a boy in the middle. Similarly, I assume a girl placed in the middle if there are two boys and a girl. One other possiblity is because the boy is the tallest among the three children, and by placing him in the middle makes a perfect angle for the composition of a picture.

The nudity in photography can be expanded as it is such a big subject. Nudity in art is never strange to us which dates back centuries ago. Is Sally Mann influenced by the traditional art? I will find out more in the next entry.

Reference :

Shore, S. (2010), The Nature of Photographs: A Primer, Phaidon Press 

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/Model_Family.html, accessed on 13th Nov 10       

http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/collections/collection-online/show-full/piece/?search=Virginia%20at%20Four&page=&f=Title&object=2001.197, accessed on 13th Nov 10

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