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A Mother's Muse Breaks Away

May 12, 2007 (Weekend Edition Saturday)

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In 1990, photographer Sally Mann shook the art world with pictures of her three children.

The intimate photos documented the everyday business of being a child: playing dress-up, eating popsicles and posing. But many of the photos were nudes, and they stirred immediate controversy.

Besides concerns that Mann's photos were pornographic, her work prompted deeper questions: where is the line between parent and artist? What happens when photo muses grow up?

Those questions particularly preoccupied author Dani Shapiro whose new novel, Black & White tells the story of Clara, the daughter of a New York art photographer who becomes famous for taking artful, evocative photos of Clara in the nude.

Shapiro says that writing Black & White helped her sort through her own questions about her responsibility to her children as an author of personal non fiction. Ultimately, Shapiro says, she couldn't sacrifice any part of her son's life for public consumption.

The art world celebrates the photos of Clara, but her childhood is abruptly sacrificed. At 18, Clara runs away to Maine, marries and stays away for 14 years.

When she learns that her mother is dying, Clara comes back to make sense of the woman who loved her, but perhaps loved her art a little more.

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