Sally Mann

The following article was written by Sally Mann for the New York Times.

In September 1992, I published my third book of photographs, “Immediate Family.” The book contained 60 photographs from a decade-­long series of more than 200 pictures of my children, Emmett, Jessie and Virginia, who were about 6, 4 and 1 when I started the project. The photographs show them going about their lives, sometimes without clothing, on our farm tucked into the Virginia hills. For miles in all directions, there was not a breathing soul. When we were on the farm, we were isolated, not just by geography but by the primitive living conditions: no electricity, no running water and, of course, no computer, no phone. Out of a conviction that my lens should remain open to the full scope of their childhood, and with the willing, creative participation of everyone involved, I photographed their triumphs, confusion, harmony and isolation, as well as the hardships that tend to befall children — bruises, vomit, bloody noses, wet beds — all of it.

I expected that the book would be received in much the same way as the one I published four years earlier, “At Twelve.” That book, which showed pictures of young girls on the cusp of adolescence, resulted in modest attention and took about a decade to sell out its small press run. That’s not what happened with “Immediate Family.” Within three months, it sold out its first printing of 10,000, and the publisher soon ordered another printing, a sales pattern that continued. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with mail, faxes, phone calls and strangers knocking on my door. Not even the remoteness of little Chitlin’ Switch (as a friend called the area where we lived) protected us. During those first two years, I received 347 pieces of fan mail, much of it addressed simply to “Sally Mann, Lexington, VA.” These letters came with photographs, of course, but also books, journal pages, handmade clothing, 35 preserved butterflies, jewelry, hand lotion, porcupine quills, Christmas-­tree lights, sharks’ teeth, recipes, paintings, a preserved bird, mummified cats, chocolate-­chip cookies and a hand-­painted statue of the Virgin Mary with a toothy demon on a leash.

The overwhelming response was due, in part, to an article about my work by Richard B. Woodward that appeared as a cover story in this magazine around the time the book came out. During the three days of interviews at my home, I was a sitting duck, preening on her nest without the least bit of concealment. So I can hardly fault Woodward for taking his shots at me. In my arrogance and certitude that everyone must see the work as I did, I left myself wide open to journalism’s greatest hazard: quotations lacking context or the sense of irony or self-­deprecating humor with which they were delivered.


Mann’s daughter Virginia in “Falling Child, 1989.” Credit Sally Mann

Woodward, though he was somewhat sympathetic, pressed his foot hard on the controversy throttle, framing the discussion of my work with a series of provocative rhetorical questions: “If it is her solemn responsibility, as she says, ‘to protect my children from all harm,’ has she knowingly put them at risk by releasing these pictures into a world where pedophilia exists? . . . Do these sensual images emerge from the behavior of her subjects or are they shaped by the taste and fantasies of the photographer for an affluent audience?”

Woodward wrote me afterward, teasingly, that he had “dined out for months” on the article, and I’m sure he did. It generated lots of mail to the magazine, all of which the editor was kind enough to send me, although reading it caused me the same furious pain the article had. That it was essentially self-­inflicted made it all the worse.

I was blindsided by the controversy. It occasionally felt as though my soul had been exposed to critics who took pleasure in poking it with a stick. I thought my relative obscurity and geographic isolation would shield me, and I was initially unprepared to respond to the attention in any cogent way. And all of this was worsened by the cosmically bad timing of the book’s release, which coincided with a debate around an exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs that included images of children along with sadomasochistic and homoerotic imagery, stimulating widespread discussion about what constituted obscenity in art. Into this turbulent climate, I had put forth my family pictures. Although barely a quarter of them depicted a nude child, I was unfailingly described as the woman who made pictures of her naked kids, an assertion that inflamed my critics, many of whom had never actually seen the work.


The magazine published a cover story on Mann’s work in 1992. Credit The New York Times

My intern and I read all the letters from The Times and divided them into three crude piles: “For,” “Against” and “What the . . . ?” The Against pile beat out the others, but not by much — nearly half the letters were positive, and not in the creepy way you might expect. (An example of semi-­creepy: “As an editor and publisher of a nudist-­related publication, I too am subject to public humiliation.”) Some were critical-­but-­trying-­to-­be-­helpful letters; a few were from people who had either been abused as children or were themselves treating abused children. These were concerned, sometimes fraught letters. Several recounted the writers’ own painful life stories.

“I went into therapy 14 months ago because of depression,” one said, “never thinking for one moment that there were incest issues in my past. After five months, the horror of flashbacks and memories began. I was incested over and over and horribly tortured.”

A particularly agitated letter from Staten Island, with a P.S. apologizing for the “primitive method of handwriting,” queried: “Was it really art, Ms. Mann, or was it covert incest?”

The letters that stabbed me to the quick were the “Bad Mother” letters. Though I made my share of mistakes, as all parents do, I was devoted to my kids. I walked them to school every morning and walked back to pick them up at 3. I never forgot to sign the innumerable permission slips and attended all their piano/flute/oboe/ballet recitals and soccer games. (O.K., so strictly speaking, that’s not true, Virginia says. She jokingly reminds me that I missed the All Regional band performance in Covington when she gave her oboe solo. And I bet there were some soccer games, too, but let’s just say I did the best I could.) With my husband, Larry, holding the flashlight, I picked pinworms from itchy butts with the rounded ends of bobby pins, changed wet sheets in the middle of the night, combed out head-­licenits and mopped up vomit. I baked bread, hand-­ground peanuts into butter, grew and froze vegetables and every morning packed lunches so healthful that they had no takers in the grand swap-­fest of the lunchroom.




Mann’s daughter Jessie with a piece of flounder she refused to eat. Credit Sally Mann

I was somewhere between a “cool mom,” as Woodward described me, and an old-­fashioned mom who insisted on thank-­you letters, proper grammar, good conversational skills, considerate behavior and clean plates. In the snapshot above, Jessie is shown at 9:30 at night, still at the table after everyone else has gone to bed, sitting before a piece of flounder she refused to eat. I am not particularly proud of this moment, this clash of titanic stubbornnesses, but my children would sit at our adult friends’ tables anywhere in the world, eating whatever was on their plates and engaging their dinner companions in conversation. And yes, without being asked, write a thank-­you note.

The Bad Mother letters usually raised the question of informed consent. But the kids were visually sophisticated, involved in setting the scene, in producing the desired effects for the images and in editing them. When I was putting together “Immediate Family,” I gave each child the pictures of themselves and asked them to remove those they didn’t want published. Emmett, who was 13 at the time, asked me to exclude one picture from the book. He had been playing Bugs Bunny and fell asleep still wearing nothing but long white socks on his arms, meant to look like the white legs of a rabbit. He was uncomfortable not because of the nudity but because he said those socks made him look like a dork. It was a question of dignity.

Maintaining the dignity of my subjects has grown to be, over the years, an imperative in my work, both in the taking of the pictures and in their presentation. As my father weakened with brain cancer, I tried to photograph him, in the manner of Richard Avedon or Jim Goldberg, whose work I admire. But I put away my camera when I began to see that photographing his loss of dignity would cause him pain. (Once, after his death, I was asked what he had died from, and I replied, “Terminal pride.”) I did not take a picture on the day that Larry picked up my father in his arms and carried him like a child to the bathroom, both of their faces anguished. To do so would have been crossing a line.

It’s hard to know just where to draw that stomach-­roiling line, especially in cases when the subject is willing to give so much. But how can they be so willing? Is it fearlessness or naïveté? Those people who are unafraid to show themselves to the camera disarm me with the purity and innocence of their openness.

Larry, for example. Almost the first thing I did after I met Larry Mann in 1969 was to photograph him, and I haven’t stopped since. At our age, past the prime of life, we are given to sinew and sag, and Larry bears, with his trademark stoicism, the further affliction of a late-­onset muscular dystrophy. In recent years, when many of his major muscles have withered, he has allowed me to take pictures of his body that make me squirm with embarrassment for him. I call this project “Proud Flesh.” In taking these pictures, I joined the thinly populated group of women who have looked unflinchingly at men, and who frequently have been punished for doing so. Remember poor Psyche, chastised by the gods for daring to lift the lantern that illuminated her sleeping lover. I can think of numberless male artists, from Bonnard to Weston to Stieglitz, who have photographed their lovers and spouses, but I have trouble finding parallel examples among my sister photographers. The act of looking appraisingly at a man, studying his body and asking to photograph him, is a brazen venture for a woman; for a male photographer, these acts are commonplace, even expected.

Mann with one of the family’s horses, Jestaflame.

Leslye Davis/The New York Times

It is a testament to Larry’s tremendous dignity and strength that he allowed me to take the pictures. The gods might reasonably have slapped this particular lantern out of my raised hand, for before me lay a man as naked and vulnerable, and as beautiful, I assert, as Cupid. Rhetorically circumnavigate it any way you will, but the act of taking those pictures of him was ethically complex, freighted with issues of honesty, responsibility, power and complicity. He knew that, because he is a practiced model, and he also knew that many of the pictures would come at the expense of his vanity.

To be able to take my pictures, I have to look, all the time, at the people and places I care about. And I must do so with both ardor and cool appraisal, with the passions of eye and heart, but in that ardent heart there must also be a splinter of ice. And so it was with fire and ice that Larry and I made these pictures: exploring what it means to grow older, to let the sunshine fall voluptuously on a still-­pleasing form, to spend quiet winter afternoons together. The studio’s wood stove was insufficient, but he had two fingers of bourbon to warm him. No phone, no kids, NPR turned low, the smell of the chemicals, the two of us still in love, still at the work of making pictures that we hope will matter.

And it is because of the work, and the love, that these pictures I took don’t disturb Larry. Like our kids, he believes in what we do and in confronting the truth and challenging convention. We all agree that a little discomfort is a small price to pay for that.

One New York Times letter-­writer predicted an outcome for my children that did, in fact, come to pass: a “third eye,” as this writer eloquently put it. By this she meant a shameful self-­consciousness, a feeling of guilt and moral doubt about the pictures. And of the three kids, this most afflicted my youngest, Virginia — my carefree, lissome river sprite.

That third eye was painfully drilled into Virginia just before she turned 6 by Raymond Sokolov, who wrote a confounding op-­ed article in The Wall Street Journal in February 1991. He was knicker-­twisted over government funding for art that the “non-­art-­going public” could find “degenerate” or in which a “line was crossed.”

An image called “Virginia at Four,” which appeared on the cover of Aperture in 1990, set him off. At the time, oceans of ink were being spilled over arts-­funding controversies. Sokolov asserted that selective public funding was not the same thing as direct government censorship. As the government had neither funded nor censored my family work, its relevance to his argument was unclear. (I had received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, but not for the pictures of my children.) Sokolov’s rather banal article acquired an undeniably arresting force on the page, thanks to the accompanying illustration, the photograph of Virginia at 4 with black bands crossing out parts of her body, which The Wall Street Journal printed without my permission. The nation’s largest-­circulation newspaper cropped and disfigured my photograph as if it were Exhibit A in a child-­pornography prosecution.


Left to right: Virginia on a 1990 cover of Aperture. A response to the image on The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page. Virginia’s letter to The Wall Street Journal. Credit Left to right: Aperture; The Wall Street Journal, via Little, Brown and Company; Sally Mann.

When we saw it, it felt like a mutilation, not only of the image but also of Virginia herself and of her innocence. It made her feel, for the first time, that there was something wrong not just with the pictures but with her body. Heartbreakingly, the night after seeing the picture with the black bars, she wore her shorts and shirt into the bathtub.

Of course, the doctored image excited art-­aware lawyers. The Visual Artists Rights Act, which protects works of art from intentional destruction, still had some teeth left, and they were prepared to use them to take a bite out of The Journal. I was glad to hear from them and was spoiling for a fight. But as it became clear that Virginia would be a David to The Journal’s Goliath, we backed off. The thought of the depositions she would face and the likely tone of the questioning by opposing counsel were important factors in our decision. The third eye of shame was already in place. No need to blacken it.

Instead, we suggested that Virginia write a letter to Sokolov, which she did. After some legal pressure, Sokolov and Daniel Henninger, his editor at The Journal, each wrote a letter of apology to Virginia. But the last sentence of the letter from Henninger was particularly galling: “The groups of people who often argue with each other about things like this would probably be better off if they gave each other something many people have forgotten called common courtesy.” How he thought this was an appropriate ending for a letter to a 6-­year-­old, I cannot fathom.

For all the righteous concern people expressed about the welfare of my children, what most of them failed to understand was that taking those pictures was an act separate from mothering. When I stepped behind the camera and my kids stepped in front of it, I was a photographer and they were actors, and we were making a photograph together. And in a similar vein, many people mistook the photographs for reality or attributed qualities to my children (one letter-­writer called them “mean”) based on the way they looked in the pictures. The fact is that these are not my children; they are figures on silvery paper slivered out of time. They represent my children at a fraction of a second on one particular afternoon with infinite variables of light, expression, posture, muscle tension, mood, wind and shade. These are not my children at all; these are children in a photograph.

Even the children understood this distinction. Once, Jessie, who was 9 or 10 at the time, was trying on dresses to wear to a gallery opening of the family pictures in New York. It was spring, and one dress was sleeveless. When Jessie raised her arms, she realized that her chest was visible through the oversize armholes. She tossed that dress aside, and a friend remarked with some perplexity: “Jessie, I don’t get it. Why on earth would you care if someone can see your chest through the armholes when you are going to be in a room with a bunch of pictures that show that same bare chest?”

Jessie was equally perplexed at the friend’s reaction: “Yes, but that is not my chest. Those are photographs.”


Not only was the distinction between the real children and the images difficult for people to understand; so was the distinction between the images and their creator, whom some found immoral. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that I actually was, as some New York Times letter-­writers suggested, “manipulative,” “sick,” “twisted,” “vulgar.” It should make no difference to the way the work is viewed. If we revere only works made by those with whom we’d happily have our granny share a train compartment, we will have a paucity of art.


From left: Virginia, Emmett and Jessie. “The fact is that these are not my children,” Mann says of her photographs. “They are figures on silvery paper slivered out of time. They represent my children at a fraction of a second on one particular afternoon with infinite variables of light, expression, posture, muscle tension, mood, wind and shade.” Credit Sally Mann

It is fair, however, to criticize my ambition, my project, to argue that I’ve done my job clumsily or tastelessly, to tell me, as a letter-­writer did, that I’m a maker of “badly composed frame[s] of an amateur home movie,” or to wish to see restored the view of children as decorative cherubs with no inner lives of their own. But at no point in that dialogue about the work should my private character as the maker of the pictures be discussed. Nor, for that matter, should the personalities of the children, the actors and models, be considered.

I tried not to read what was written about my work, though occasionally a review or an article would float past me, often with interpretations so rudderless, ill ­rigged and in every other way unseaworthy that I marveled it made it out of dry dock. When Mary Gordon attacked my work in the 1996 summer issue of Salmagundi, she went after my favorite image, “The Perfect Tomato,” asserting: “The application of the word ‘tomato’ — sexual slang for a desireable woman — to her daughter insists that we at least consider the child as a potential sexual partner. Not in the future but as she is. The fact that the children are posed by their mother, made to stand still, to hold the pose, belies the idea that these are natural acts — whatever natural may be.”

I felt this required a response and replied in an essay in a subsequent issue:

“It is a banal point that no artist can predict how each image will be received by each viewer, and that what is devoid of erotic meaning to one person is the stuff of another’s wildest fantasies. Mary Gordon seems to have these aplenty, but it is her retailing of lurid impressions of ‘The Perfect Tomato,’ a photograph of unassailable purity, that elicits this rebuttal.

To back up her denunciation, Gordon homes in on the offending title. I am now informed that ‘tomato’ is slang for a desirable woman among the hard-­boiled gumshoes of certain faded detective novels (a meaning which the Oxford English Dictionary does not recognize). I cannot imagine that this sense is ever used today, except in ironical allusion to that genre. Certainly I had no thought of it when I gave ‘The Perfect Tomato’ its whimsical title, a nod to the only element in the picture that’s in focus.

When I turned and saw my daughter dancing on the table that day, I had no time to make adjustments, just ecstatically to swing my view camera around and get the exposure. There was no question of trying to retake the picture; it was, to pilfer a line from W. S. Merwin, ‘unrepeatable as a cloud.’ ‘The Perfect Tomato’ is one of those miracle pictures in this series that preserve spontaneous moments from the flux of our lives. For other images, we replayed situations that had arisen — pace Gordon — ‘naturally’ or within the evolving circumstances of a photo session.”

Mann cutting the hair of her husband, Larry.

Leslye Davis/The New York Times

Oscar Wilde, when attacked in a similar ad hominem way, insisted that it is senseless to speak of morality when discussing art, asserting that the hypocritical, prudish and philistine English public, when unable to find the art in a work of art, instead looked for the man in it. But as much as I argued this point, other voices still insisted that the rules were different for a mother. This is a typical sentiment from a Times letter: A mother should not “troll the naked images of her children through waters teeming with pedophiles, molesters and serial killers. Sally Mann’s photos not only put her children at risk, but all the other children in Lexington, Va., as well.” This got to me, too. All the other children of Lexington?

If ever there was a man who knows about “pedophiles, molesters and serial killers,” it is Kenneth Lanning, a former member of the behavioral science unit at the F.B.I. Fretting about this letter, I cold-­called the department and lucked out by being referred to Lanning. I asked if we could talk about these spectral, nightmarish figures and whether I should be concerned about them. I also hoped to get from him, in effect, a declaratory judgment as to whether my studio was going to be subject to the kind of ungentle attention that the agency paid to the photographer Jock Sturges, whose images of naked children on a nude beach in France were confiscated by the F.B.I. after a raid in 1990.

Larry and I went to see Lanning at his office in Quantico, Va., in April 1993. The kids were with us and got a tour of the place before Lanning sat down to look at what I had brought — the family pictures I had completed up to that point. When he was finished, he gathered up the pile of 8-­by-­10-­inch contact prints, tapped it against the table to even the edges and looked over at us. He spoke at some length, a sad, too-­knowing smile playing across his face. He said what I already knew: that some people would be aroused by these pictures. And then he said: “But they get aroused by shoes, too. I don’t think there is anything you can take a picture of that doesn’t arouse somebody.”

He stressed that in his profession, context and perception were everything. I remarked, somewhat wryly, that they were in mine as well. I certainly knew that the context of place was important in my family pictures, but I also knew that I was creating work in which critical and emotional perception can easily shift. All too often, nudity, even that of children, is mistaken for sexuality, and images are mistaken for actions. The image of the child is especially subject to that kind of perceptual dislocation; children are not just the innocents that we expect them to be. They are also wise, angry, jaded, skeptical, mean, manipulative, brooding and devilishly deceitful. “Find me an uncomplicated child, Pyle,” challenged the journalist Thomas Fowler in “The Quiet American,” by Graham Greene, adding: “When we are young we are a jungle of complications. We simplify as we get older.” But in a culture so deeply invested in a cult of childhood innocence, we are understandably reluctant to acknowledge these discordant aspects or, as I found out, even fictionalized depictions of them.

Another loaded issue the photos raise is the nature of desire — there is sexual desire, but there is also maternal desire, marrow-­deep and stronger than death. When the doctor handed Emmett to me, tallowy and streaked with blood, it was the first time I’d ever really held a baby. Here he was, the flesh of my flesh. I was gobsmacked by my babies: their meaty beauty and smell, the doughy smoothness of their skin, the pulsing crater of fontanel. I loved the whole sensual package with a ferocious intensity. Yes, it was a physical desire, a parental carnality, even a kind of primal parental eroticism, but to confuse it with what we call sexuality, interadult sexual relations, is a category error.

In the pictures of my children, I celebrated the maternal passion their bodies inspired in me — how could I not? — and never thought of them sexually or in a sexual context, remarking to Woodward, “I think childhood sexuality is an oxymoron.” I did not mean my children were not sexual; all living creatures are sexual on some level. But when I saw their bodies and photographed them, I never thought of them as being sexual; I thought of them as being simply, miraculously and sensuously beautiful.


“White Skates, 1990.” Credit Sally Mann

Once the work was out in the world, I was puzzled as to why that sensuous beauty should be signposted as controversial, while magazine pages were filled with prurient images of young girls, all aimed at selling commercial products. Lanning understood and noted the difference between the images of my children’s bodies and those of the pornographers or the profane consumer culture. That day in Quantico, he reassured me on some points but cautioned me on others: No, law enforcement wasn’t likely to come after me, he said, but I was in for a rough time nevertheless.

He was right on both counts.

While Lanning seemed to think it improbable that serial murderers and molesters were coming for the children of Lexington, or even just mine, it seemed to me that we were in some jeopardy. Some letters I received had troubling return addresses bearing inmate numbers and correctional institutions; some gave off an indefinably creepy vibe. The creepiest stuff of all was the six years of fantasy, supplication and menace issuing from the computer of one obsessive who lived in an adjoining state. This man was our worst fears come true, troubling our waking and sleeping hours for years; to this day, despite the fact that he has moved overseas (where he has a job teaching children), Virginia reports having nightmares about him.

Sometimes using his real name, more often a transparent alias, and occasionally posing as an author researching a self-­help manual for “recovering pedophiles,” this guy began his epistolary assault by carpet-­bombing editors and journalists. But his were not letters of complaint; instead, and more worrying, they asked questions about the kids.

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Many recipients tossed these letters in the trash, but many other people, alarmed, forwarded them to us. This creep was tireless: He wrote to people who knew us, asking for unpublished gossip, and to the kids’ schools, asking (repeatedly) for assignments, yearbooks, grades, contest entries and artwork. When he received no response from the schools, he got a local man to try his luck at getting the material.

A suspicious clerk was on duty in the medical records department at the hospital when our stalker’s official-­sounding request for the children’s birth certificates came in, and fortunately she called me about it. Subscribing to the local papers to scan them for our names, he would taunt us with his knowledge of ballet recitals, school honor rolls and lunch menus. Once he sent registered-­mail letters to the kids, and I had a friend sign for them, not wanting him to have even a signature.

Those who received his outpourings were regularly informed of his being “bedridden with lovesickness for the Mann children,” of his desire to receive “a blessing from the Mann family’s holy presence” and of his resentment of us “for stealing my piece of the pie, so I hoped somehow to steal it back from them.”

For years, I was sleepless with fears of Lindbergh-­baby-­like abductions and made sure that the windows were locked, that the house was always occupied, that the children were accompanied by an adult. Of course, I contacted Lanning, who gave me advice but was limited in what he could do, as were private protection agencies, because the man had made no threats. A psychiatrist who read the letters suggested buying a box of rhino shells for the shotgun, and a police officer concurred, reminding me to be sure to drag the body thus dispatched over the threshold and into the house. The cumulative effect of this creepiness was, paradoxically, almost to make our stalker the family member he claimed he wanted to be. Though I didn’t carry Larry’s picture in my wallet, I started carrying this man’s, and I would watch for him with something close to the fervor of a lover, checking cars, peering down dimly lit library stacks, scanning the audiences at public appearances for an ordinary face that thousands of faces resemble. This is the first time I’ve publicly referred, in any detail, to the shadow this weirdo cast for so many years. I knew that it would only validate those critics who said I put my children at risk. And it will make their vengeful day when I admit now that they were in some measure correct.


A self-portrait taken for the magazine in March by Mann, with her husband, Larry. Credit Sally Mann for The New York Times

With love, rapture and perhaps some measure of foolishness, I made pictures I thought I could control, pictures created within the prelapsarian protection of the farm, those cliffs, the impassable road, the embracing river.

That’s the critical thing about the family pictures: They were possible only because of the farm, the place. America now hardly has such a thing as privacy, at least not the kind we had at the cabin. How natural was it, in that situation, to allow our children to run naked? Or, put another way, how bizarre would it have been to insist on bathing suits for their river play, which began after breakfast and often continued long after dark, when all three would dive like sleek otters for glow sticks thrown in the pool under the still-­warm cliffs?

They spent their summers in the embrace of those cliffs, protected by distance, time and our belief that the world was a safe place. The pictures I made of them there flowed from that belief and that ignorance, and at the time seemed as natural as the river itself.

As ephemeral as our footprints were in the sand along the river, so also were those moments of childhood caught in the photographs. And so will be our family itself, our marriage, the children who enriched it and the love that has carried us through so much. All this will be gone. What we hope will remain are these pictures, telling our brief story.


Why would anyone be against nude child photography?

If someone is against nude child photography, it means they must think there is something sexual about nude children. If you don’t think there is anything sexual about nude children, then why would you be against nude child photography? Well, only a child molester would think there is anything sexual about a nude child. A normal person would never think there was anything sexual about nude children. Only a child molester would see something sexual when they look at pictures of nude children. Regardless of whether they physically molest children, the people who are against nude child photography suffer from the same psychiatric disorder as other child molesters. The only reason why some people are against nude child photography is because they assume there must be something sexual about it, which only a child molester would think. If someone is against nude child photography, that means they think there is something sexual about nude children, which means they are a child molester. If you are not a child molester, then you don’t think there is anything sexual about nude children, which means you are in favor of nude child photography. In order to fight against the child molesters, you have to promote nude child photography, since only a child molester would be against it. We have to educate the public that there is nothing inappropriate about nude child photography.

Artists Must Oppose Witch Hunts

[On April 12, 1996, I was part of a panel discussion, “Art, the Child, and the First Amendment,” sponsored by Boston’s Photographic Research Center. It was not a good event, and I deeply regret participating. Seventy-two hours before the panel, I was informed that panelists would not be making opening statements. I was annoyed because I had taken the time to prepare something, and because I felt censored. For what it’s worth, here is what I had written.]


Artists Must Oppose Witch Hunts

by Bob Chatelle

This is the opening paragraph of an article titled “Minor Infractions,” by photography expert Laura Marks, that appeared in the November 1990 After Image:

A moral panic over the production of child pornography has swept the United States in the past several years. Recent episodes of “Geraldo” and “Gabriel’s Fire” dealing with child pornography are the latest in a spate of drama and junk news shows that feed the popular perception that child porn is a widespread problem. The very term “child pornography” is so volatile that it deflects any serious examination of the issues it raises, such as what constitutes child porn and who is harmed by it. Legislators and media commentators are reluctant to criticize the furor over child pornography for fear of being seen as child porn “advocates.” Thus an increasing number of artists, exhibition spaces, and parent photographers around the country are getting arrested, censored and harassed for producing, exhibiting or possessing child pornography when what they are actually “guilty” of is making and displaying images that depict kids who do not have clothes on. Things have since gone from bad to worse. Pro-censorship activists from the theocratic right and politically correct left, united in the belief that some ideas are so dangerous that they must be suppressed, have seriously crippled the First Amendment by inflaming child-pornography hysteria.


We’re all familiar with the plight of Toni Marie Angeli, a Cambridge mother who took an introductory photography class at Harvard Extension School. Angeli shot some innocent film of her son Nico and took it to Zona Photographic Labs. Employees freaked at the sight of a four-year-old’s bare butt, and called the cops. Angeli was not docile when police accused her of being a pornographer and child abuser and threatened to take her son away from her. For standing up for her rights, Angeli was punished with a month in prison and has been subjected to malicious personal attacks.

Angeli’s case is far from unique. In 1988, for example, Virginia photographer Alice Sims’ two children were temporarily removed from her home and given medical examinations after Dart Drug photo developers alerted police to pictures of a naked infant and a naked 3-year-old Sims had shot for a collage series called “Water Babies. In 1989, Patti Ambrogi, a teacher at Rochester Institute of Technology, was targeted with four complaints of child abuse and pornography when she exhibited photos of her nude twin daughters at a campus gallery. Also in 1989, FBI agents raided internationally acclaimed photographer, Jock Sturges, seizing equipment, prints, and negatives. Sturges photographs nudist families, primarily in France. No charges were ever filed, but his legal bill ran to $100,000 and much work was destroyed. The US government spent 2 million dollars in its investigation.


In 1994, police raided an art gallery in Tucson and seized innocuous photographs of Robyn Stoutenburg’s four-year old son. Marilyn Zimmerman, art professor at Indiana’s Wayne State University, was the target of a search and seizure operation after a janitor discovered a discarded proof sheet of Zimmerman’s three-year old daughter and turned it in to the police. And another photography student, Eljat Feurer of Bernardsville, New Jersey, was arrested and forced to live away from home for a year when he took nude photos of his six-year old daughter for a course at the International Center for Photography in New York City.


From time to time, entire cultures go insane. People become overwhelmed by problems that seem beyond comprehension or solution. At such times, we need evil to take palpable form. Some powerless group is scapegoated and the powers-that-be focus our rage upon them. In the 1950s, the target in the US was domestic communists and other subversives. In Germany during the 30s, it was the Jews. And in 17th century Salem, and in Europe for centuries before that, it was heretics and witches.


The current moral panic–the New McCarthyism–is a reaction against the 60s, against the rise of gay liberation during the 70s, and against the tragic AIDS epidemic. Nearly twenty years ago, Anita Bryant started her campaign against sexual minorities. Not surprisingly, her cry was “Save the Children.” Bryant’s campaign has evolved, but it has never abated. And the often unacknowledged bogeyman is still the queer male, feared as an unfeeling, insatiable predator upon children.


A hallmark of moral panics is the officially promoted belief that the monsters are so cunning that experts are needed to identify and destroy them. Citizens are told to be vigilant, to spy on friends, neighbors, and family members. We are urged to “err on the side of caution” and to report suspicious characters. One cannot have a police state without the police, and one cannot have authoritarianism without authorities. Only an authority can decide if your left-leaning Uncle Fred is really a Communist. Only an authority can decide whether the family next door might be hiding Jews in their attic. Only an authority can decide if that eccentric old woman who lives by herself is a witch. And only an authority can decide if a mother who takes nude photographs of her own child is a pornographer and abuser.

In fifteenth century Europe, the greatest heresy was not to believe in witchcraft. Today the greatest heresy is to doubt the universality of childhood sexual abuse or the existence of a vast international child-pornography industry. But heresy is an artist’s moral duty. There is a mantra that I think all artists should repeat to themselves upon arising: The government is not my friend, the government is not my friend… An artist in bondage to state, to church, to a therapy cult, to the mass media, or to any other “authority” produces propaganda, not art.


Looking for models for nude child photography

Ok, here’s the deal.

I have an idea for a photo that would portray a mother and child together, both in the nude.  It would be very innocent and only their backsides would be shown – rendering the individuals anonymous.

I’ve seen plenty of mother/infant nude shots which seem perfectly ok, and we’ve all seen plenty of baby butt photos that seem harmless, but I know I’d be skating on thin ice if the nude child was an adolescent – so, somewhere in there is a line that crosses into potentially dangerous territory. 

This concept would work best using a mother with her toddler-aged child, say 1.5 to 2 years old.

My question is, at what age does it become “inappropriate” to portray a child’s naked butt in an anonymous, innocent fashion?

Thanks in advance for your opinions, which I’m sure will vary wildly! big_smile

  Dec 16 10 09:11 pm  Link  Quote 

guide forum

GPS Studio Services
Posts: 32,104
San Francisco, California, US

BareLight Photography wrote:
My question is, at what age does it become “inappropriate” to portray a child’s naked butt in an anonymous, innocent fashion?

I have no idea.  Ask a prosectuor.  I will say this, I don’t see a toddler’s butt being very sexualized.

You said it was an adolescent.  1.5-2 isn’t adolescent.

  Dec 16 10 09:26 pm  Link  Quote 

BareLight Photography
Posts: 470
Kansas City, Kansas, US

No, I didn’t say I wanted to use an adolescent.  What I was trying to state is:

a) It seems to be acceptible to show an infant/baby butt in a photo

b) Many people would have a problem with showing an adolescent butt in a photo

So, somewhere between infancy and adolescence there is a line that crosses into potentially dangerous territory if you’re wanting to show their butt in a photograph – but where is that line? 

Of course, the context can make a great deal of difference.  But, I’m referring to a very innocent mother/child concept possibly using a toddler in the 1.5 to 2 or so age range.  And, does it make any difference if the subjects are essentially anonymous?

Your point about asking the prosecutor was not lost on me. smile

  Dec 16 10 10:14 pm  Link  Quote 

Bluestill Photography
Posts: 1,797
Seattle, Washington, US

I wonder how many years the prosecutor gave these perverts shooting this photograph? sounds too innocent to even be perceived as anything sexual.
  Dec 16 10 10:16 pm  Link  Quote 

Art of the nude
Posts: 11,729
Olivet, Michigan, US

Some people will object no matter what.  You need to figure out if their objections mean more to you than the potential positives.

I can think of contexts and images that are perfectly suitable no matter what the age of the child.  But I wouldn’t shoot them because it’s not worth the headaches.

  Dec 16 10 10:17 pm  Link  Quote 

Posts: 371
Alameda, California, US

the child himself/herself will object to showing their naked butts. if he/she does, it is not proper and it is considered lewd. don’t do it.
  Dec 16 10 10:21 pm  Link  Quote 

BareLight Photography
Posts: 470
Kansas City, Kansas, US

Bluestill Photography wrote:
I wonder how many years the prosecutor gave these perverts shooting this photograph?

Well, the prosecutor can only request a specific sentence.  Then it’s up to the judge/jury big_smile

  Dec 16 10 10:24 pm  Link  Quote 

Posts: 371
Alameda, California, US

notice the photographer is a woman…
in addition they are not ‘but’ naked…

obviously if you insist, regardless of what anyone says it seems you made up your mind…

If a child wants to model nude is it illegal?

If a child wants to model nude is it illegal?

Technically it’s not illegal in the U.S.A., just highly controversial. Children modeling nude can be seen in the works of Jock Sturges, David Hamilton, and Sally Mann just to name three photographers. The photo books of these photographers can be purchased through out the country.
The controversy over children modeling nude stems from a dispute over what constitutes pornography. To some people any form of nudity or even a suggestive pose while fully clothed is pornographic. To others anything short of intercourse is considered erotic art and not pornography.
A general rule of thumb is if the subject of the art is not involved in any form of sexual act either with another person of on their own. Is not in a pose that causes the eye to be drawn directly to the buttocks, genitals or breasts, then it can pass as art and not pornography.However each area of the country and some times each individual judge will have their own take on what is pornographic and what isn’t. Thus if a child wishes to model nude, then it is best that it be done with a trusted artist, with parental consent and supervision and with clear set boundaries as to the type of poses allowed.== Answer ==
If a child wants to model nude is it illegal?
Beauty has no age. The female nude has always been considered the utmost beauty. An artist uses canvas, stone or wood whereas the model uses her nude to form beautiful figure. This is pure art and should not be related to sex or porno. I like to watch art nude work on Met Art, met models and Errotica.
I have a 13 years old girl. I noticed her interest in art and modeling. I want to be prepared in case she asks me to allow her to pose for nude art modeling. I am inclined not to object provided:

  1. work is only related to art
  2. no sex
  3. No explicit shots of genital area. This area to be obscure by shade, by her hands, a pillow or by posing her body to hide that area.

I would suggest that you practice some photagraphy with your child together to start. That way she can get used to it in a safe and secure environment without strangers. Begin with simple clothed photo shoots and see where it goes from there. If she desires to model nude, she will likely bring it up on her own if you are open to it, so there is no need to put any pressure on her in that regard.

O.k. nobody should exert pressure on a preteen whether she should or should not pose nude. But my question is that is there some legal and reputable pay sites that show art nude preteen models? I agree that I should start with Mary. She would feel safer with her dad. But I want to see more professional sites dealing with preteens. I believe that creating the suitable pose for the girl can hide her genital area and keeping it obscure. This is the most important issue. Adult girls can pose with very explicit details of their genital area. In some sites I saw them opening their lips and showing the details of the inside. This is very objectionable with a child. Such explicit images does not relate to beauty. Furthermore; the suitable pose is the essence of nude art photography.

A. J. and Lisa Demaree

Parents lose custody of their children for a month after they take innocent bathtime photos in to be developed at Walmart and employee calls police

  • Lisa and Anthony Demaree took photos of a family holiday to Walmart to be developed in 2008
  • The couple had their kids taken away for them after concerns were raised about several naked photos of the three young girls
  • The Demarees had their daughters returned a month later after no evidence of sexual abuse was found
  • They are suing both Walmart and the city of Peoria, Arizona where they live
  • They lost the original case in 2009, but their appeal was heard on Wednesday and they are awaiting the verdict

By David Mccormack


An Arizona couple falsely accused of taking pornographic pictures of their three young daughters are suing Walmart in a bid to win damages after an horrific ordeal which they claim robbed them of precious time with their kids and cost them $75,000 in legal fees.

In 2008, Lisa and Anthony ‘A.J.’ Demaree took their three young daughters – then aged five, four and 18 months – on a trip to San Diego.

On returning home they took 144 photographs, mostly from their recent trip, to their local Walmart in Peoria, Arizona to have them developed.

Lisa and Anthony Demaree were falsely accused of taking pornographic pictures of their three young daughters

The couple were reported to child protective services after a Walmart employee was concerned that some of the images being developed might be child pornography

What happened next was the start of a nightmare for the Demarees.

A Walmart employee, unhappy over the content of several bath time pictures, contacted bosses with concerns that they may have been images of child pornography.

Instead of receiving a batch of happy memories of a fun family outing, the couple were reported to the police and their children were placed into the care of the Arizona Child Protective Services Agency.

‘It was a nightmare, it was unbelievable. I was in so much disbelief. I started to hyperventilate,’ Lisa Demaree told ABC News at the time.

The Demarees released some of the photos which a Walmart employee though might have been child pornography

It was a month before the girls were returned to their parents, after a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled the photographs were in fact harmless and a medical exam revealed no signs of sexual abuse.

The family was reunited but the damage had been done. The couple’s named went on a central registry of sex offenders, while Lisa was suspended from her job at a local school for a year while the investigation was under way.

The couple also had to spent $75,000 on legal bills.

‘We’ve missed a year of our children’s lives as far as memories go,’ Demaree told ABC News.

‘As crazy as it may seem, what you may think are the most beautiful innocent pictures of your children may be seen as something completely different and completely perverted.’

The family is suing both Walmart and the city of Peoria, Arizona where they live

In 2009, the couple sued the city of Peoria and the State Attorney General’s office for defamation. They also sued Walmart for failing to tell them that they had an ‘unsuitable print policy’ and could turn over photos to law enforcement without the customer’s knowledge.

The couple lost the initial hearing after a federal judge sided with Walmart, ruling that employees in Arizona cannot be held liable for reporting suspected child pornography.

However the Demarees appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and on March 6 the court held a hearing before three judges.

‘The most beautiful innocent pictures of your children may be seen as something completely different and completely perverted,’ said Lisa Demaree

The family’s lawyer has argued that Walmart committed fraud by not disclosing to customers that employees would look at their photographs and was also negligent because ‘untrained clerks’ were given the authority to make assumptions about the content of the pictures and report them to police.

Lawyers for Walmart argued that under Arizona statute employees who report child abuse without malice are immune from prosecution and there was no indication of malice in this case.

The Demarees are currently awaiting a verdict from the appeals court on the case against the city and Walmart.


Date: Fri, 27 Mar 98 09:23:57 PST
From: Blair
To: ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom List
Subject: Randall Terry letter
MIME-Version: 1.0
X-MAILER: Chameleon V0.05, TCP/IP for Windows, NetManage Inc.
X-Listprocessor-Version: 8.0 — ListProcessor(tm) by CREN
Status: RO

Yesterday Randall Terry sent me a copy of his latest fundraising letter (he’s running in the 26th Congressional District of NY). The eight-page letter includes two pages with five photos from the following books:


_Jock Sturges_ by Jock Sturges


_Radiant Identities_ by Jock Sturges


_The Age of Innocence_ by David Hamilton (with 2 text excerpts)


_The Immediate Family_ by Sally Mann (2 photos)


On page three he writes:


“On the next page of this letter (I’m telling you this in advance to warn you), I have reproduced some of the shocking pictures that are contained in the vile pornographic books being sold at Barnes & Noble with the blessing of my opponent [incumbent Congressman Maurice Hinchey].


“Don’t worry — I’ve had the indecent parts censored. But in these books that anyone can buy at Barnes & Noble, they show full nudity of young boys and girls…As Young As 3 Years Of Age! (This will break your heart)”


On page four, where the pictures start, he writes:


“Believe me, I struggled with how I should best present this trash to you. My colleagues and I talked, prayed, debated, searched our hearts, and sought counsel on what would be the most appropriate way to show you just how bad this material is. So please forgive me for the offensiveness it inherently contains. But I’m afraid there’s no other way to show you the kind of trash Barnes & Noble and Congressman Hinchey feel is okay to spread around our communities.”


None of the photos is lewd (at least, as originally published), and only the David Hamilton photo of a teen caressing another teen could be called the slightest bit erotic by any stretch of the imagination. For some bizarre reason, Mr. Terry thought it necessary to put a black rectangle over all female nipples, even those of Sally Mann’s three-year-old daughter! Who’s the pervert here?

Mr. Terry apparently thought that by censoring nipples and genitals with black rectangles, he could avoid becoming a purveyor of obscenity himself. I will argue that he has achieved just the opposite. He has defaced beautiful artistic photographs and turned them into child pornography.


Judging by court decisions such as the Knox case a few years ago (five years in jail for overuse of zoom in bikini videos) and the last summer’s decision on California suit brought by the film industry (Free Speech Coalition v. Reno), the working definition of child pornography now seems to hinge on sleazy marketing. It doesn’t matter if there is no nudity, if the minor models are behaving innocently and are unharmed, or even if no actual person is depicted (i.e. computer-generated pornography). All it takes is sleazy advertizing to make the distributor, photographer, and even the recipients liable to being charged under recent draconian child pornography laws (the three-pronged Miller test seems to have been abandoned when minors are involved).


For example, the Child Pornography Protection Act of 1996 includes in it’s definition of child pornography, “any photograph, film, video, picture, or computer or computer-generated image or picture…where…such visual depiction is advertised, promoted, presented, described, or distributed in such a manner that conveys the impression that the material is or contains a visual depiction of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct,” which is defined to include “lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of any person.”


Randall Terry makes it clear that his purpose in distributing these pictures is to make money. By making the photos look sleazy with censor’s marks and calling them “trash” and “child pornography,” don’t they become just that by the definition above? And what about the harm to the models, should Mr. Terry’s campaign cause people in their communities start believing that they were involved in something lurid? Perhaps someone should file a complaint.


Not only is Mr. Terry distributing “child pornography” to make money, he’salso hawking weapons. At the end of his letter, he writes:


“If you send $1000.00, we’ll send you the _William Wallace Sword_, used in making the movie _Braveheart_. This sword is _full size_, _expensive_, and _beautiful_!”


To Mr. Terry, a weapon is beautiful and a nude toddler is trash. Do we want this dangerous man in Congress?


I hope one of the legal experts on this list can comment on the perverse twisted logic I have presented. Please don’t blame the messenger – it’s all part of the mischief caused by creating the obscenity exception to the First Amendment.