Many individuals have trouble accepting mothers as artists, as they are inclined to consider stereotypes when taking into account the traditional role of the mother. By doing so, they automatically think of people like Mann as having to focus on a series of choirs that have traditionally been associated with her position. By being an artist a mother would presumably be less able to perform a series of basic tasks and would thus make it impossible for her children to develop properly. "When an artist uses her children as subject matter, her motherhood is all too readily there and is thereby perverted by the child-like narcissism that we associate with the creative act." (Mavor 27)
The reality is that the social order is not ready to handle a mother trying to be an artist, especially when she uses her children with the purpose of putting across her messages. Some have even argued that Mann did not have the 'right' to photograph her children the way she did, as this damaged their image and the image of children in general, taking into account that it portrayed them as something that they were not. Mann, however, most probably wanted to address ideas that were very common, but that the world had trouble discussing. It almost seemed that she addressed a taboo topic and made it possible for the whole world to understand that people did not want to talk about concepts that were actually very ordinary. It is very difficult to get involved in a discussion concerning Mann's 'right' to photograph her children the way she did. Some lobby with regard to how the photographer's "Immediate Family" series tries to manipulate public opinion and is especially unethical.
What many interpreted as an assault on public decency was Mann's attempt to put across her thinking. Critics believe that Mann's work is damaging because of two principal reasons:
It distorts the public's understanding of children by displaying them in sensual and violent positions
It influences children to take on defiant attitudes on account of how the characters in Mann's pictures seem determined to act in disagreement with socially accepted values
Mann's intention with "Immediate Family"
Sigmund Freud's "Beyond the Pleasure Principle" actually emphasizes that society is inclined to look at things from the wrong perspective. The Austrian psychoanalyst actually shares Mann's thinking by claiming that there is much more to children's apparently innocent plays than some might believe. "We see that children repeat in their play everything that has made a great impression on them in actual life, that they thereby abreact the strength of the impression and so to speak make themselves masters of the situation. But on the other hand it is clear enough that all their play is influenced by the dominant wish of their time of life: viz. To be grown-up and to be able to do what grown-up people do." (Freud)
In addition to generating numerous controversies, Mann's "Immediate Family" also represented a turning point in history. Her work can practically be considered to stand as proof with regard to how people have a limited understanding of children's behavior and thinking because they refrain from getting involved in discussions that society tends to categorize as being immoral. The majority of individuals who supported Mann's works were women who believed that her portrayal of her children was bold because she dared to emphasize both the tenderness and the complexity of human nature. This strange form of sensibility was, for many, characteristic to the pain and the fear that a mother has when considering her children (Fletcher, Newton, Fehily, and IRIS the Women's Photography Project 11).
Mann seems to have reinvented the classical mother's efforts to raise her children by introducing elements of photography. It is practically as if Mann is no longer taking on the role of a mother and that her relationship with her children while taking these photographs was primarily focused on the photographer-subject connection. Sensuality and sexual frankness are used in "Immediate Family" with the purpose of changing people's understanding of children. It is not necessarily that she wanted to portray children as being sexual in any way, as she simply wanted to raise public awareness concerning the fact that children are not as innocent as someone might be inclined to believe. Most children are actually well-acquainted with ideas generally believed to be immoral and it is important for them to be provided with education concerning the attitudes they need to take with regard to unethical concepts.
Mann's motherhood played an important role in influencing many to feel that her photographs were not meant to damage generally accepted beliefs. "For some, her role as mother served as proof that she did not intend to exploit children for the sake of notoriety, while for others it reinforced the pity they felt towards her 'helpless art-abused children'." (Attwood, Campbell, Hunter, and Lockyer 118)
Mann's effect on how society perceives particular nineteenth century photographers
Mann's work did not only succeed in triggering controversies concerning her family and her children in particular. It also managed to draw attention to nineteenth-century photographs involving children. Mann practically opened the world's eyes concerning a series of realities about children and about society in general. It appears that individuals in the nineteenth century held more liberal opinions about photographs involving children taking on roles typically associated with adults.
Women photographers in the nineteenth century apparently adopted attitudes similar to Mann's in their line of work. However, it is probable that the fact that photography was in its early stages at the time made it difficult for the masses to be able to grasp the messages that these photographers wanted to put across. By looking at Julia Margaret Cameron's 1864 "The Double Star" photograph and at Mann's 1988 picture "Kiss Goodnight," one is likely to find a series of parallels. Mann actually emphasized that she was inspired by Cameron when taking her photograph, thus making it possible for her critics to understand that she was not actually the first photographer to portray children in controversial poses. The fact that society adopted a series of restraining attitudes by the time when Mann published her work is likely to have played an important role in making it difficult for people to accept the message that these photographs were meant to put across.
It is certainly difficult to catalogue Mann's work, taking into account that the photographer focuses on complex ideas and that her pictures are likely to trigger mixed feelings in viewers. While some are inclined to believe that the photographer has exploited her children with the purpose of producing art that would primarily benefit her as an abstract individual, others consider that the messages she puts across are actually very educational and that she contributes to making society acknowledge a series of truths that it is generally too afraid to even consider.
Regardless of whether Mann's works have a positive or a negative impact on society, it is only safe to say that they are very powerful. It is basically impossible for someone to see her photographs without experiencing intense feelings or without engaging in deep philosophical discussions concerning the true nature of these pictures.
Attwood, Feona, Campbell, Vincent, Hunter, I.Q., and Lockyer, Sharon, "Controversial Images: Media Representations on the Edge," (Palgrave Macmillan, 07.12.2012)
Auping, Michael, "Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth: 110," (Third Millennium Information Ltd., 2002)
Fletscher, Jane, Newton, Kate, Fehily, Catherine, IRIS the Women's Photography Project, "I Spy: Representations of Childhood," (I.B.Tauris, 04.11.2000-125 pagini)
Freud, Sigmund, "Beyond the Pleasure Principle," Retrieved April 30, 2013, from the Bartleby Website: http://www.bartleby.com/276/2.html