So I had to write an interpretation of a photograph. I wrote about Mary Ellen Mark’s photo above. Any thoughts?
I chose to write about the image, “Amanda and Her Cousin Amy” by the photographer Mary Ellen Mark. I remember a couple of years ago I was sitting in a book store and happened across Mary’s book titled, Exposure, when I opened it, this was the first image I came to. I can recall myself sitting and staring at this image for almost a half an hour, trying to process what I was looking at. I ended up buying the book, just for this one image so I could take it home and dissect it some more. I hadn’t really looked much at the book since then and now a couple years have past; I want to try to really break down why this image stuck me so much.
In the instant the viewer looks at the image one can notice that something is a bit abnormal about these two little girls in a child’s swimming pool. The girl in the foreground seems to be no older then the age of 9 or 10, but the viewer can get a sense that she is not a normal 9 or 10 year old. The girl has heavy eyeliner and make-up on for starters, but I think the most eye-catching aspect is most defiantly the fact that this underage girl is smoking a cigarette so nonchalantly. She has her right arm crossed under her left elbow, propping up her arm, with the smokeable in her hand, while exhaling a big puff of smoke. The viewer gets the feeling of this girl is taking her normal, everyday, “smoke break” from being a kid, just like an adult would from a job. The girl in the background, to me, seems to be the most out of place thing about this image simply because she is “too normal” but yet, really speaks volumes about the image. She appears to be a slightly chubby, all American girl, playing with her friend on a summer day.
Mark took this image for a series for Life magazine, documenting a special school for children with problems, as she described it. She recalls that Amanda, the girl smoking, was her favorite child and was only 9 years old at the time the image was taken. She tells that Amanda is very smart but she was also very naughty. She would always take her smoke breaks every 45 minutes to an hour while out playing with her cousin. She also explains the Amanda was very controlling over her mother. She would bark orders, steal her mother’s make-up, and would smoke openly in front of her mother, while the mother would never say anything to discipline the girl. Amanda pretty much was the boss of her home.
I think the most interesting thing about this image is that, had these not been American children, I don’t think the impact, to me, would have been as great, as laws in other countries are different then ours. The viewer can’t immediately tell that these are American children, until the viewer reads the title, which explains it was taken in North Carolina. Once the viewer has connected the demographic of the children, the cultural taboos seem to play much heavier on the impact of the image. It seems to be very reminiscent of Sally Mann’s image of her little girl holding a candy cigarette, yet Mark’s image shows the reality of a little girl smoking, rather then Mann’s more wholesome image.
As I started to look deeper into this image and understand the context of why the image was made, I begin to look at other things that jumped out at me. I noticed how Mark put the focus on Amanda, standing up tall, covering the frame from top to bottom, cropped at the knees. While in contrast you see her cousin, Amy, in the background, sitting down, in a more closed up, relaxed pose. To me I really get the impression of Amanda’s mentality of how she thinks she is grown up, almost inferior to all those around her. I get the sense that Amanda would be very mean to her cousin Amy. To me, it seems that Amanda has had a very hard life, so she trys to cover that up by acting older then she actually is, by reference of the make-up and lung destroying vices.
The girl’s are in a pool of water, which I think could represent the pool of emotions and actions we take as humans. The girl on the right, Amanda, is standing tall, taking charge of the image, demanding the focus is on her, not asking for our attention but taking it. While her cousin, Amy, is the lesser of the action of people, by her being reserved, left out, not trying to act for the camera, but being in the shadows. I also feel that Mark is trying to show how girls are influence by media, such as actresses on television or models in magazines. She is showing how Amanda, wants to be grown up, basically bypassing being a kid, and live up to the fantasy of being a grown up. Amy, on the other hand is like that every little girl that is a little different, and can’t be happy with herself because of the bombardment of propaganda telling girls they should look or dress a certain way. I get that sense just by the look on her face, compared to Amanda’s; in the moment this image was taken. I think this image is a great balance to show the contrast of the spectrum of the roles of children, and how one person’s taboo is another person’s everyday existence.