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SEEING NOW: Photography Since 1960

On Sally Mann's The Last Time Emmett Modeled Nude
By Samantha Wilson

The Last Time Emmett Modeled Nude is one of many photographs that Sally Mann took of her own children as they were growing up. The family had a summer cabin along a river in a remote area of Virginia and the children would often play and swim there in the nude. In this photograph, Mannís son Emmett stares directly into the camera. His outstretched fingers lay on the surface of the water creating a pattern of ripples that surround his young body. Tall trees, together with their dark reflections, enclose a sunlit section of water which, in turn, contrasts with the boyís tanned face and focuses attention on his relentless gaze.

This photograph and other nude images of Mannís three children included in her book, Immediate Family, have been highly praised. However, they have also aroused considerable controversy because of their frank and complicated depictions of childhood. Mann defends her choice of subject matter by insisting that photography is more than taking photos that commemorate special family events such as birthday parties. For her, photography was a way to document her childrenís growing life, often captured in its most mundane moments. She explains in her book, “When the good pictures come, we hope they tell truths, but truths ‘told slant,’ just as Emily Dickinson commanded. We are spinning a story of what it is to grow up. It is a complicated story and sometimes we try to take on the grand themes: anger, love, death, sensuality, and beauty. But we tell it all without fear and without shame.”


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Sally Mann. The Last Time Emmett Modeled Nude. 1987. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Women's Committee Photography Fund, BMA 1989.51