It's always exciting when a photograph provokes debate in the national media, and TIME Magazine's controversial new cover, shot by legendary pro Martin Schoeller, is getting worldwide headlines this week. It instantly forces conflicting feelings in the viewer: breastfeeding is natural and healthy, but the woman (a 26-year old) is sveldt and attractive, and her son, attached at the breast (literally) looks way older than 3 or 4. Our reaction teeters between something naturally maternal and something sexually taboo. Schoeller photographed 4 different mothers and their children of various ages and said he felt that the child standing really underscored the gravity of the controversy over "attachment parenting." This was not an image created for artistic reasons, to capture a beautiful bond between mother and child; it was created to provoke. The true argument is whether Time Magazine made a wise decision regarding usage of this photo to place national importance on this topic, or whether they cynically calculated its effect on generating media and sales. In the economic and social currency of our country these days, this did not seem like a topic that needed to be "exposed" in such a way. Shrewd business or not, this will now join Annie Leibovitz's provocative photo of Demi Moore's pregnant bod (Vanity Fair, August 1991) as a "titular", iconic image whether women want that visual representation or not.
But as a photographer who loves a little controversy, this got me thinking: are there not better, hotter topics stabbing at the populace right now that could be better served with an iconic photograph on the cover of a national magazine? Just a couple of starter ideas that take the maternal angle to keep viewers "abreast" of more relevant issues:
A row of bankers lining up to suckle the Statue of Liberty's breast?
A frank picture of the smoldering, leathery remains of the "tanning mom's" breasts?