Photograph of the Week #3 | Sally Man's At Twelve
Known for intimate portraits of her family, American photographer Sally Mann’s 1988 series At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women features a collection of black and white photo-portraits of twelve-year-old girls from her hometown in Lexington, Virginia. Together, these direct, large-format photographs were Mann’s intimate study of girlhood and her subject’s transition from childhood into adulthood. In this image, Mann captures a young woman embracing her pregnant mother in their backyard. Both subjects embody two distinct moments of womanhood - adolescence and pregnancy - allowing their portrait to touch on larger themes of motherhood, family, and sexuality/fertility.
Of this series Mann remarked, “What watchfulness in the eyes of a twelve-year-old….at once guarded, yet guileless. She is the very picture of contradiction: on the one hand diffident and ambivalent, on the other forthright and impatient…” Drawing attention to cultural stigmas surrounding sexuality and children has been a trend throughout Mann's controversial career (most notably in her 1992 series Immediate Family which features both ordinary and erotically charged images of her three children.) Here in this photo, the knowingness of the girl’s eye contact creates a parity between the viewer and the subject, a challenge that becomes sexualized in its directness.