Comments/Context: In contrast to the usual photographer/model interaction, something altogether different occurs when a husband or wife photographs his or her spouse, especially when those images are nudes; emotions run higher, deeper vulnerabilities get exposed, and more willing risks get taken. In the history of photography, it has traditionally been the men taking pictures of the women, and there are plenty of superlative examples to recall: Stieglitz and O'Keefe, Strand and Rebecca, Weston and Charis, Callahan and Eleanor, just to name a few; on the flip side, there are few if any examples where the role was reversed - the only one I can come up with is Cunningham's nudes of Roi from the early 1900s, and these pictures were deemed too risque for wider viewing until decades later. Sally Mann is in many ways the perfect photographer to step into this void and take the male nude somewhere new; her unflinching portraits of her young children are profound evidence of her willingness to take some chances to explore the boundaries of how we see one another.
These pictures are a far cry from beefcake portraits of men with ripped abs and massive shoulders; they tackle head on the questions of aging, waning strength, and male vulnerability. But unlike the unflinching self portraits of John Coplans, which address similar subject matter, these images are undeniably the gaze of a wife at her husband, which changes the emotional setting completely. What I think is most remarkable about these pictures is their amazing sense of honor; there are no longer any secrets between these two people, anything that was once hidden has long ago been revealed. The intimate pictures expose Larry's frailties with respect and trust; they are images seen through the eyes of someone who loves this wiry and withered aging man.
Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)
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