I think everyone photographing their own kids has to find that balance on their own, maybe in coordination with their children. For someone like Sally Mann the balance is slightly more invasive. For someone like Elizabeth Fleming or Byron Wolfe it's probably more accommodating of personal space.
The thing that makes the Rivers story so riveting is that he didn't have any sense of balance. To him his kids were like paints or fabrics, pure property to use as he saw fit and screw the personal ramifications. The irony is that it may have made his work stronger —or at least less filtered— and it's intriguing to wonder if it takes that level of tunnel-vision to really break through as an artist. Maybe. But at what cost? The whole situation seems to encapsulate the classic dilemma. How much of your soul would you sell to secure a place in history?
The reason this issues strikes such a chord with me is that I photograph my own kids. I have always done that but until recently I never made the images public. I kept them in a private scrapbook, just as most families do. I think the main reason I've put them out now there is that many of them are my favorite photos and they seem to form a cohesive body of work. It seems silly to keep them hidden. But even then there are limits. I don't publicize disparaging or explicit shots. Sometimes the photos poke fun, but hopefully not in a mean way. Sometimes the kids are naked but not in any perverse way. If these limits make the work tamer and less racy, that's fine.
Thinking about all of this today as I hang out with my kids and my cameras in the Maine backwoods.
Addendum 7/18: Yesterday the Times posted an update on this story.