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Bill Henson's censored photographic exhibition.
May 25, 2008 2:06 AM   Subscribe

Photographs of esteemed Sydney artist Bill Henson have been removed by police from the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, and the debate over art vs pornography vs pedophilia heats up in Sydney this week. Some of the debate is quite measured and intelligent while other sides are descending to unruly levels.

Even Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has something to say about the whole debacle.

Unfortunately the offending artworks have been removed from both the gallery's website and walls, so we can not judge for ourselves. Once again we'll have to leave it up to the courts to decide.
posted by robotot (61 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
"...the debate over art vs pornography vs pedophilia heats up in Sydney this week."

I have been following this very loosely over the last few days, so it's possible I've missed some important facts but it seems to me that as much as Henson may very well have intended to make an artistic statement, he must have been naive in the extreme as to think that accusations of child pornography wouldn't be leveled at his work and indeed, himself.

First off, my personal views. I think censorship is, by and large, a blunt instrument that the Government should wield as little as possible, especially where art is concerned. 'Art', however you wish to define such a thing, is almost always going to be on the edge of what society finds acceptable. Indeed, the most interesting art is the one that generates discussion and debate within society and culture. Censorship is a tool that has the very real potential to stifle debate, discussion and thought and as such it should be, as I mentioned before, used rarely when it comes to the world of art.

However, that view is also tempered by my very real feelings that child pornography is about as low and disgusting a thing as any person can do. Minister Macklin is spot on when she says (in the 'measured and intelligent' link) that the sexualisation of children in todays society is wrong. It's something that should very rightly be of concern to right thinking person, and yet it is becoming more and more frequent a thing the further we descend into this new century.

So how do the two co-exist? Can they even do so? How can art push the boundaries while ensuring that censorship need not be used? And how can we as a species push the boundaries of our own consciousness, our own sphere of knowledge and indeed, our own sense of morality when censorship is actually used by the authorities to remove things that attract any controversy?

For me, there is a simple fact; child porn is wrong and children must be protected. It can be argued that such a black and white view stifles the very things I just argued against but for me it really seems as simple a thing as child porn is wrong and as such any form of it needs to be fought against.

So, where does that leave Henson and his work? Despite what I just said, I feel the need to ask the question "what was his statement meant to be?" What was the point of his work? Again, I have been following this very loosely but from what I have read, I've not seen any explanation from him about why he felt that this was art he had to create. Was he intending to make the same point I just made; that the sexualisation of children is becoming ever more prominent in society and that this is something that we, as a civilization, need to confront? Was his aim to show innocent in a world were innocence is so easily lost? I don't know; I can't know. It seems his views have gotten very little airplay as the furore drifts toward a "KILL THE PED!" mentality. It's a mentality that one can easily fall into. In the interests of full disclosure, I have pretty much fallen victim to it myself right here on Metafilter, so I kind of know where I'm coming from here.

In the end, the lack of a statement from Henson seems most telling to me. It's entirely possible his views have been given no time by the media, or that his lawyers have told him to keep quiet for the sake of keeping himself out of prison. But to me, a person who loves art, who sees great merit in art's potential to help us evolve as a species and to generate public debate, the fact that Henson hasn't made even the simplest of statements (vetted by his lawyers) seems to say that perhaps his art wasn't made with the purest of intentions.

I hope I'm wrong. I really do. But as I said earlier, even if I am wrong, Henson has been extremely naive in the extreme as to think that accusations of child pornography weren't going to be thrown at him and his work. We'll see how this story progresses as the days and months go on on. It's too early to tell definitively at this stage. But no matter what the outcome, one thing is for sure; pedophile or not, this whole debacle has once again shown a side of humanity I really, really wish didn't exist.
posted by Effigy2000 at 3:13 AM on May 25, 2008


Meanwhile in Finland: the case of Ulla Karttunen and Neitsythuorakirkko ("Virgin-whore church"):
Police confiscate art exhibit as child pornography

Artwork critical of child pornography still under preliminary investigation

Police raid home of artist Ulla Karttunen

Artist convicted of child pornography plans appeal
posted by Anything at 3:35 AM on May 25, 2008


There was already a thread on this a couple of days ago, and it got pulled. I don't expect this one to last long either.

A friend of mine runs the gallery website. The offending images have been removed from the exhibition and from the website. But the image used in the gallery invite can be seen here. (NSFW.) You can make your own judgement.

Having seen the whole exhibition, I don't consider the girl to be objectified or presented in a sexual manner. She is a very real person, captured at that particular moment in a girl's life as she transitions to becoming a woman.
posted by daveje at 3:41 AM on May 25, 2008


thank god we are protected from photographers. what with 1/4 women under 18 being sexaully assaulted and given the 5% prosecution rate, we better stop these photographers while we can.
posted by ewkpates at 4:06 AM on May 25, 2008


Well, the last deletion said "this would probably be better in the existing thread or as a less screedy sounding post", so maybe this is unscreedy enough to qualify.

What I find weird is the way things have completely flipped around from when I was young. Back then adult nudity was forbidden since it was seen as sexualized. Child nudity was relatively common in art or in real life on beaches, since children's bodies weren't seen as sexual object.

These days it's the opposite. Adult nudity is relatively tolerated, but children's bodies must be covered up.

I just wonder if we're creating a forbidden closet of mystery here. Is hiding away one class of images when every other kind of bizarre, extreme or weird porn is instantly available, really a good idea? Or are we just creating an enormous taboo which is even more thrilling to break?

In most cultures, it's the erotic which is hidden away. Things you see all the time lose their erotic appeal (Seen any cute ankles lately?)

It seems to me that by this kind of thing, we're actually sending out strong signals that children's bodies are sexual.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 4:10 AM on May 25, 2008 [5 favorites]


I don't consider the girl to be objectified or presented in a sexual manner.

Nor do I, but I assume we're fighting a losing battle here. There's a widespread assumption that naked = sexual, and I can't even begin to think how you'd start to dismantle such a link, even though it seems far from self-evident to me.

Those pictures of diverse naked people, lying in the streets of various cities. Or the calendars of middle-aged women that sell for charity. Nobody ever seems to assume that those are jerk-off material, yet stick a kid in a picture and everyone assumes that the world is desperate to masturbate frantically.

I dunno, perhaps it's a proxy for effective child abuse enforcement? We can't really protect our kids from abuse or exploitation, but we can sure as hell lock up anyone who dares to show a picture of one naked?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:11 AM on May 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


This is an interesting article on this subject by Clive Hamilton published this week in Crikey:
Henson is one of Australia’s foremost photographic artists with a considerable international reputation. Much of his work explores the idea of adolescence as metamorphosis from childhood to adulthood. It reminds the viewer of the anxieties, confusions and intense emotions in which their mature selves were forged.

The photographs in question are of a naked girl, back-lit, who appears to be about 12 years old. Her poses and expression convey wistfulness and ambiguity, as if she is saying “Here I am, as you see me; but who am I?”. Like much of Henson’s work they have a dream-like quality to them.

The photographs show the girl’s budding breasts, her hips and, in one case, a glimpse of her vagina. Their intention is not to arouse er-tic feelings and they are unlikely to do so except in those already inclined to view children in that way. They are imaginative, haunting and beautiful. Although not sexual images, they can be seen as a commentary on the slow, halting and unsettling metamorphosis of child’s body into an adult one.

However, the fact that the pictures cannot be characterised as pornographic is not the end of the ethical story because the social context in which the photographs are presented changes their nature.

If we lived in a society of sophisticated people with mature sexuality, one that respected children and the integrity of their maturation process, then there could be no objection to the Henson exhibition. Alternatively, if the photographs were seen only by the intended audience and in the gallery environment, the exhibition could fulfil its purpose without controversy.

Perhaps some decades ago such a world, or at least a subset of the world, existed; but it doesn’t any more. The exhibition cannot be isolated from a society in which children are increasingly exploited for commercial reasons and used for gratification.

Childhood has become highly charged sexually, in a way that goes far beyond, and distorts, the normal process of sexual development in children. I am not referring primarily to the fact that children grow up in a culture saturated with sexual imagery, but to the trend towards presenting children in advertising and media in increasingly eroticised ways.

This trend was described in detail in the Australia Institute’s report Corporate Paedophilia and has been supplemented by evidence presented to the on-going Senate inquiry into the sexualisation of children, including the land-mark report by the American Psychological Association.

In addition, the testimony of experts like criminologist Bill Glaser that paedophiles not only find stimulation in media images of eroticised children but take them as a justification for their own predatory urges inescapably casts a darkness over the Henson photographs.

There can be no doubt that the images posted on the web are now circulating around the world and being used by some men for sexual gratification. The images will be available in perpetuity. For those who want them.

It is impossible for a 12-year-old to understand the implications of allowing her naked body to be presented to the public. As she cannot give informed consent she is in the hands of the adults around her ─ her parents, the photographer, the gallery owner. I don’t doubt that their motives were pure; but they were also naïve and they have caused damage to the child.

The sexualisation of children by the media and the wider culture has occurred only over the last decade or two; yet as a result images of naked children can no longer be seen as harmless.

It is tragic that those who are responsible for sexualising children have robbed us of the ability to see Bill Henson’s photographs the way he intended. In destroying the sexual innocence of children they have destroyed the innocence of innocence.

Closing down the exhibition should not be characterised as the victory of prudery over artistic licence. Oddly perhaps, if the exhibition had been mounted in more conservative times it would have passed unremarked and been appreciated by the art-loving minority.

If artists have a responsibility to push at the boundaries of the acceptable, society has a responsibility to push back. After a decade or more in which children have been increasingly exploited, society is beginning to push back and Bill Henson has been a victim: innocent perhaps, but he should have known better.
posted by gstone at 4:36 AM on May 25, 2008


For me, there is a simple fact; child porn is wrong and children must be protected.

Fair enough. Now we just have to establish what child porn is. Is this exhibition child porn? Does it become child porn because some individuals may be aroused by it? Some individuals are apparently aroused by kids in pyjamas in the Myer catalogue, presumably they aren't going to censor that. Indeed, I wonder if this may be part of the artist's statement.

Thank god for digital cameras, so my wife can take pictures of my two-year old son running around the back yard in his birthday suit and send them to relatives without getting arrested. I read a story in this regard a few years back - a grandmother sending pictures she took of her grandchild in the bath to get processed, the guy at the photo lab calling the police.

What about medical text books? I can imagine there are text books out there, journal articles, that contain photographs of children's genitalia. Are they going to be removed from the shelves as well?

But you're right - I can't see any clear way we call pull the mood of society back from the idea that any kind of nudity is sexual, and that the more innocent the nudity is, the more sexual it becomes. Very strange times.
posted by Jimbob at 5:32 AM on May 25, 2008


I should note that, like all efforts at censorship, it only ends up widening the audience of the subject matter and drawing attention to it. I can only imagine the thousands of fingers tapping at keyboards, trying to Google for the photographs...
posted by Jimbob at 5:38 AM on May 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Here we go again.

Having seen the whole exhibition, I don't consider the girl to be objectified or presented in a sexual manner. She is a very real person, captured at that particular moment in a girl's life as she transitions to becoming a woman.

And that as well maybe, as a person who appreciates art you are able to make the distinction.

But since the images are now available on the web, they change. They are no longer seen in the scope of an exhibition, but as a naked child.

People who are into kiddie porn will find images in store catalogues arousing.

This also goes to the meaning of consent when granted by a minor. No twelve year old is able to comprehend the ramifications of having her image available in such a way. Tell me a twelve year old girl understands masturbation, or eroticism. It's a crock to suggest otherwise.
posted by mattoxic at 6:14 AM on May 25, 2008


Daveje - the reason the previous one got pulled was due to the poor way I presented it - so, hopefully this one should stay up as it focuses the discussion on the censorship issue - if no one references Sally Mann, or the Sistine Chapel's myriad naked pubescent boys, we should be good ....

ah fuckit!
posted by strawberryviagra at 6:18 AM on May 25, 2008


A friend of mine runs the gallery website. The offending images have been removed from the exhibition and from the website.

Oh thank goodness. I was looking at the website and experiencing that Magic Eye "I can't see the bunny" feeling.

I find the image linked at theage.com to be really fascinating, only marginally more "pornographic" than Anni Lebowitz' portrait of Miley Cyrus (which is to say, not really at all). If anything it's intriguing and rare (for most people) to see the body of a child that age presented as something powerful (a better word in this case than "sexual", which is in the eye of the beholder), and therefore a valuable artistic effort.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 6:27 AM on May 25, 2008


Linked in the previous thread, here are a few more of the censored images (censored with black bars themselves).
posted by mediareport at 6:33 AM on May 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Interesting first comment, Effigy, but you should give the artist a bit more credit than you do. Notice:

First off, my personal views. ... 'Art', however you wish to define such a thing, is almost always going to be on the edge of what society finds acceptable. Indeed, the most interesting art is the one that generates discussion and debate within society and culture. ...

But after several paragraphs of well-reasoned considerations inspired by the artworks in question, you ask:

So, where does that leave Henson and his work? Despite what I just said, I feel the need to ask the question "what was his statement meant to be?" What was the point of his work?

Well, by your own notion of good art, his work was meant to be "the most interesting" it could be. In this case, it presents a challenge to our everyday idea that pictures of naked children are bad. I anticipate that this thread will be an interesting testament to the success of Henson's art.

Moreover, and this perhaps deserves some emphasis, even if this whole debacle and the public debate it has generated weren't part of Henson's intent in creating these works, they still make it good art. Artists' statements are only as interesting as the person who wrote them; the art itself transcends.
posted by voltairemodern at 6:40 AM on May 25, 2008


I can only imagine the thousands of fingers tapping at keyboards, trying to Google for the photographs...

This is exactly what happened. The images were online for a few days before the first publicity, but even after the html pages were removed, but the logs showed people trying to access the images via Google caches, or image scraping scripts.

The original gallery invite was sent as unsolicited email, and used the image I linked to above. By itself, and completely out of the gallery context, it's a provocative image, and using it was badly judged.

The images themselves are unavailable from the gallery website, and have been removed from the exhibition, but one of Australia's news services is showing them here, (again, NSFW) with black bars. I submit that the censored versions are more provocative than the original images. There's also irony in the fact some of the other image galleries on that page advertise a "Bikini car wash" and "Hooters girls", while decrying the Henson images.

Tell me a twelve year old girl understands masturbation, or eroticism. It's a crock to suggest otherwise.

Linda Blair was 12 when she auditioned for the Exorcist, and knew exactly what masturbation was. I don't think Henson's model is fully sexually aware, but she's not an innocent child either. This is what makes the images art.
posted by daveje at 6:47 AM on May 25, 2008


They DEFINITELY look dirtier with black bars across them.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 6:49 AM on May 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


sent as unsolicited email

Just to clarify, I don't mean in terms of spam - the email went to the gallery's usual mailshot list. I mean 'unsolicited' in terms of not expecting to see that kind of images appearing in one's inbox.
posted by daveje at 6:54 AM on May 25, 2008


That's not "unsolicited,' then. You need to find another word. Thanks for the connected info, though; it's great to have someone here who knows someone involved. This quote sums it up for me:

Federal Families Minister Jenny Macklin said both parents and policymakers had to draw a line in the sand on the issue. "I think this sexualisation of children is wrong," she told the Nine Network today. "I don't agree with the photographs, but I also don't agree with the way in which children are being bombarded in many other places, whether it's billboards, whether it's on children's television.

"Children these days are just getting bombarded with sexualised images all the time, and it's that sexualisation of children that I think is wrong."


"And we can't go after big companies that sexualize kids in their advertising without getting into a shitload of legal trouble. But we damn sure can close down a tiny gallery and arrest a single artist for doing pretty much the same thing."
posted by mediareport at 6:59 AM on May 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


[NOT HERMITOSIS-IST], Linda Blair was possessed. Of course she would know what masturbation was.
posted by mattoxic at 7:07 AM on May 25, 2008


so my wife can take pictures of my two-year old son running around the back yard in his birthday suit and send them to relatives without getting arrested

EMAIL KIDDIE PORN RING EXPOSED

Pictures "innocent", claims accused mother
posted by flabdablet at 7:11 AM on May 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


Child nudity was relatively common in art or in real life on beaches, since children's bodies weren't seen as sexual object.

PJ O'Rourke (of all people) said 'when I see a naked three-year-old, I don't think sex, I think diapers. Get some pampers on that brat before he ruins the rug.' So in that sense, a lot of pornography is in the mind of the beholder. Supposedly, there's been cases of impisioned pedos using the kids underwear ads in catalogs as pornography, but I don't think somebody shopping for a set of Hanes is looking at those pictures in the same way or that Sears are porn merchants.

Just a thought.
posted by jonmc at 8:15 AM on May 25, 2008


The model looks bored. I don't find the photos to be all that engaging, and they certainly don't look like sexually-charged images in my eyes. This very much seems like a case of one part nanny state, one part folks projecting their own response onto others. Although, as others have mentioned, the show context is essential in this... just floating in the etherweb, they can be seen entirely otherwise.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 9:03 AM on May 25, 2008


I think the people who cry foul about this stuff are the real perverts. Like the perverted justice folk, I think anyone so closely attuned to it is most susceptible. It's personal for them. And the issues they supposedly are 'protecting' people from are horrible, and provoke a nice knee-jerk reaction from parents.

there's a small satisfaction in knowing the USA isn't the only prude.
posted by Busithoth at 9:37 AM on May 25, 2008


This very much seems like a case of one part nanny state, one part folks projecting their own response onto others.

We're moving into thoughtcrime territory. There's a possibility that a depiction of a child may cause sexual arousal and, possibly, commit an act of child molestation. Subsequently, the crime isn't the act, or even the arousal, it's instead the depiction of the child?

Think of how much artwork you've seen that depicts cherubs with exposed genitalia, or women suckling children, or children bathing. Another poster mentioned catalogs with children modeling pajamas.

When does this silliness stop?
posted by FormlessOne at 9:43 AM on May 25, 2008


This also goes to the meaning of consent when granted by a minor. No twelve year old is able to comprehend the ramifications of having her image available in such a way. Tell me a twelve year old girl understands masturbation, or eroticism.

...

It is impossible for a 12-year-old to understand the implications of allowing her naked body to be presented to the public. As she cannot give informed consent she is in the hands of the adults around her ─ her parents, the photographer, the gallery owner. I don’t doubt that their motives were pure; but they were also naïve and they have caused damage to the child.


I know the kids aren't that bright these days but I didn't know 12 year olds had descended to this sort of rank idiocy.

I also don't know how these kids have been damaged, especially given they seem anonymous.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:57 AM on May 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


The exhibition cannot be isolated from a society in which children are increasingly exploited for commercial reasons and used for gratification.

Thanks for the link to the Clive Hamilton article, gstone; he sums up my gut reaction to the brouhaha...though I would disagree with his summation that Henson is naive, since it is hardly the first time his images have been deemed controversial. In fact, choosing to shoot and display these images he either believes he is exempt from societal changes or using the potential controversy as one component of his inspiration.

In recent years, acclaim for Henson's magnificent technical skills and the formal qualities of his photographs - the use of colour, light and scale - have obscured any controversy over the sexual nature of his content. This is a curious phenomenon. In the '80s it was different - his photos of junkies juxtaposed with grand interiors and classical architecture disturbed a number of critics - and controversy dogged him into the '90s.

And so it goes, around and around. He's running out of controversial topics, though, maybe next time he'll shoot a series of nudes spread out on gas-guzzling Holdens, back-lit by a mountain of burning tires, to disturb critics with his blatant disregard for the environment.
posted by squasha at 10:29 AM on May 25, 2008


[NOT HERMITOSIS-IST], Linda Blair was possessed. Of course she would know what masturbation was.

I read this five times before I figured out that it actually alluded to someone else's comment. Ha!
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 10:55 AM on May 25, 2008


I'd agree that no damage has been done today, except the media coverage and pulling of the photos taint the entire exhibition.

But I do think the picture linked by showed poor judgment on the girl's and the parents' part. Oh, not because they are pornography, as if nudity itself were profane, but because of the embarrassment this 13-year-old is going to feel when she turns, say, 19 and is looking for a job and the images show up on the future equivalent of MySpace or Facebook. Frankly, I'm amazed that we hold harmless youthful indiscretions over people's heads, as if teenagers should be expected to make conscious, well-thought-out decisions during these developmental times.

But apparently we do. Not a single Spring goes by without the news featuring a story about kids 'going wild' down in Mexico with drinking and partying, with crying young women upset because they now are being ostracized in some way for their actions. I continually see interviews with people who have had their pasts examined with a microscope, like police officers and teachers who once posed--gasp!--in the nude and were fired as a result.

Whether these situations really are as widespread or damaging as the media makes them out to be really doesn't matter so much as our collective reaction to the stories. Witness the ridiculous flak over the Miley Cyrus photo shoot. We simply are too immature as a society to deal with teenagers' emerging sexuality gracefully.
posted by misha at 11:11 AM on May 25, 2008


so if the photographer held the photos privately, or gave them to the parents to hold for the girl until she is 18/21/30 and can have the worldly understanding that her photos might be looked at by pervs... then if she consents, the photographer can share the photos with the world, right? if it's about the child's ability to comprehend the ramifications of being photographed (does anyone ever really understand the ramifications of one's photo?), then an adult could consent to presenting one's prebubescent nakedness to the world in whatever way s/he sees fit... right?

i own a Sally Mann book. long ago, when i worked at a used bookstore with a little "adult" section, i had to struggle with the categorization of certain books and magazines. one the one hand, if you put out some books in the "general population", you'd end up with prepubescent boys giggling, pages torn out, or you'd find it stuffed back in an out of the way corner (ew)... so you'd put it in the adult section, where it would be automatically sexualized, which would be totally wrong wrong wrong. or then it would be behind the desk, like it really was child porn, to be asked for by anyone "in the know." i struggled a lot, watching the creepy guys standing in the adult section looking over the nudist magazines. they don't belong there either. but guess who looked at them? there were only a few times that legitimate nudists came in and complained about their location. mostly, it was me burning a hole in the back of the head of some sweaty pig of a man while he paged through it at record speed like had some sort of video headset, so he could replay it later. or he would buy it in the same stack with a Hustler and a Playboy. ick.

sometimes, i'd end up buying the art books myself, because i didn't *want* to watch creeps buy them. that's how i ended up with the Sally Mann.

these photos are supposed to bring out all sorts of feelings. that's what art's about. i think that if a photographer wants to empower those being photographed, it won't matter if the world has to wait five or so years to release them. the problem is that that process itself sexualizes the content.

we are so fucked up.
posted by RedEmma at 11:48 AM on May 25, 2008 [4 favorites]


RedEmma's experience echoes my own, working in a Barnes & Noble store about 15 years ago. I was in charge of the art, music and photography books, and it always disturbed me to see people come in to look at the Sally Mann books, but never buy them. Yep, they're naked. Get over it.

It's unfortunate to see the Henson photos censored with the black bars. I forget where I read the article (it may have been linked here at one point, or I might have read it much earlier in college during an art history course on controversial art. Maybe it was a video interview... I forget), but evidently Mann's youngest child became quite self-conscious about being photographed again after being shown magazine/newspaper articles featuring Mann's photos of her that had been censored.
posted by emelenjr at 12:20 PM on May 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Tell me a twelve year old girl understands masturbation, or eroticism. It's a crock to suggest otherwise.
posted by mattoxic at 9:14 AM on May 25 [+] [!]


Twelve year old girls are very aware of eroticism - it's just about the time when they start looking for romance novels with good parts (some earlier, some later, but 12 is definitely in the middle of it). Sometimes they are so aware of eroticism that they, like twelve year old boys, have trouble thinking of other things. It's called adolescence, and the hormones do get going long before the rational mind knows what to do with them - they may not fully understand it, but they feel it, very strongly.

Choosing whether to participate in photography shoot like this is another story; I don't know how I feel. Clearly these photographs are not pornography, but it is a fairly serious decision (given our culture's reaction to nudity), and I don't know if I would have fully understood that decision at 12. But then again, I'm not sure that choosing to do so would have done me any harm.

It seems to me that this is a time for society to talk about such issues, about where our lines lie. But these pictures are so much less disturbing to me than many more fully clothed images where children and adolescents are sexualised and no one blinks an eye. The photographer here is investigating the issue with a lot more care.
posted by jb at 12:53 PM on May 25, 2008


[i]When does this silliness stop?[/i]

The solution is clearly to make all children wear burqas until they're of age.

Of course, that's only going to feed the growing hysteria about the burqaphile menace.
posted by Drastic at 1:32 PM on May 25, 2008


well, and here's another question. i own a book called America's Erotic Past 1867-1940 by Ph.D G.G. Stoctay (1973). it's one of those paperback picture books from the period when porn was produced under the thinly veiled guise of "educational" material. these are very old and sometimes interesting erotic and pornographic pictures. a few of them are of girls and boys that appear underaged. (i would say they definitely were.) when the book came into the used bookstore, i held that one behind the desk for a long time before i just took it home. the photos were clearly illegal. but then it was like, do i destroy those particular photos and keep the book? cover them with paper? censor them in my own living room? and the interesting thing is knowing that the people in the photos are long dead. do "historical" photos, ones that weren't intended for "art" purposes as much as prurience, must they be destroyed? turned in to the police? at what point do illegal photos become documentary?

there were many ethical dilemmas like this over the years. i never solved them. so probably someday i'll be arrested (or accused posthumously) for possession of child porn, when all i was doing was keeping a book from being destroyed because it might be used by a pedo to get off.
posted by RedEmma at 2:01 PM on May 25, 2008


Nice to hear from the model's perspective too.
posted by robotot at 3:10 PM on May 25, 2008


redemma, check out robotot's link, just above this: it links to the comments of the model, now a 34-year-old who in no way felt exploited by these photographs.

thought provoking post and interesting thread. thanks, robotot and everyone.
posted by CitizenD at 3:41 PM on May 25, 2008


From the bottom of robotot's linked article:
"It is clear from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that parents do not have the right to make that decision on behalf of their children," the chief executive of Child Wise, Bernadette McMenamin, said. "And children, at the age of 12, 13 or 14, do not have the experience or the understanding to make an informed consent"
Okay. So people under the age of 18 don't have the ability to consent to things. And their parents also don't have the ability to make decisions for their children. I can assume that this extends, for some reason, only to the matter of nudity, because if this principal extended to other issues children and parents faced in their lives, I can't see it working very well.

Some things on TV can be harmful. And children have no right to decide what they want to watch on TV because, after all, they're just stupid, innocent, untouchable children. But parents have no right to decide what to let their children watch on TV because they don't have the right to make decisions on behalf of their children. Mmmm.
posted by Jimbob at 3:58 PM on May 25, 2008


They DEFINITELY look dirtier with black bars across them.

Seems to me a very good point to make; that the censorship may be, in itself, responsible for the sexualization of something that might not otherwise be sexual.

Or to take it further; even the debate and the controversy surrounding the art changes the context of the art...even for its supporters. Which sometimes saddens me. I could have gone into a gallery and had a more immediate and pure reaction to the art...but now when and if I see it, I will have the annoying and perhaps trivial question of 'is this child porn?' come into my head unnecessarily. But I would also hope that maybe the art would be good enough to transcend that.
posted by troubles at 4:34 PM on May 25, 2008


But I do think the picture linked by showed poor judgment on the girl's and the parents' part. Oh, not because they are pornography, as if nudity itself were profane, but because of the embarrassment this 13-year-old is going to feel when she turns, say, 19 and is looking for a job and the images show up on the future equivalent of MySpace or Facebook. Frankly, I'm amazed that we hold harmless youthful indiscretions over people's heads, as if teenagers should be expected to make conscious, well-thought-out decisions during these developmental times.

Really? So, posing for an artist is the same as "Girls Gone Wild?" So, if you pose for an art class in college, that will damage the rest of your professional career? Does this ring true for anyone?
posted by krinklyfig at 6:30 PM on May 25, 2008


It was amusing that the Sydney Morning Herald website the other day illustrated the story with a shot of Henson in front of one of the controversial photos. The photo was slightly out of focus, but still clear enough that nobody could mistake what was being portrayed. I couldn't help thinking "Hm, I hope nobody notices that I was viewing a naked 12yo girl on my work computer!" The photo was later cropped.

Overall, I probably agree with TheophileEscargot, above: it's funny that adults are increasingly being shown naked, whilst formerly happily innocent kids are increasingly being covered up, ironically creating a kind of taboo or sexualisation out of almost nothing, through the very same act. I think that dressing little girls in completely redundant bikini tops at the beach or the pool does something quite similar.

In doing so, we are losing a chance of artistic representations of something common to all of us - we all have bodies, and we all went through these kinds of changes, and yet there's so very little of any kind of art that can speak to me about my own adolescence. It seems like a vast, yawning gap in our capacity for self-representation & understanding.

Then again, I'm not losing much sleep over it. This furore simply made me realise that puberty is very much something that gets swept under the carpet in our culture.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:34 PM on May 25, 2008


It's everywhere! Television commercials featuring semi-naked babies have been criticised after claims they encourage pedophiles.
posted by tellurian at 10:21 PM on May 25, 2008


the embarrassment this 13-year-old is going to feel when she turns, say, 19 and is looking for a job and the images show up on the future equivalent of MySpace or Facebook.

Most adults are barely recognizable from pictures of themselves as children. Besides, I can think of many jobs where it would work in your favor to have it known that when you were 12, you were gutsy enough to participate in the world of art in such an interesting way. If she's not ashamed of them, then there are not many ways that anyone can ever use these against them. If she DOES become ashamed, it won't be hard to say "Sorry, that's not me. You have the wrong person."
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 7:44 AM on May 26, 2008


it just keeps getting worse.
posted by robotot at 7:15 PM on May 26, 2008


This is getting ridiculous. The police will go ahead with no chance of winning (Legal experts have told the Herald that a successful prosecution before a jury under this barely tested section of the Crimes Act was highly unlikely). How many times do they have to get egg on their faces before they stop having knee-jerk reactions to the shrieking of zealots.
posted by tellurian at 5:22 PM on May 27, 2008


Worse than that, they obviously haven't realised yet that Miranda Devine isn't actually a shrieking zealot at all, but a high-camp comedy act, whose schtick is to satirise ranting journalists from the particularly ignorant & opinionated end of the political spectrum.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:07 PM on May 27, 2008


I'm completely confused by Miranda Devine's article, but I guess that's only to be expected. I can't see the correlation between 8 year old wearing slutty clothes and reading about anal sex in Dolly, and this exhibition. If anything, this exhibition appeared to be an exploration of innocence. The model isn't wearing a slutty outfit. She isn't doing sexual poses. She's just (OMFG!) naked. Complaining about the exhibition just creates another link between children and sex - the very thing the prudes were complaining about in the first place.

Anyway, my outrage has shifted elsewhere, ever since I heard a resident from that town in NSW where they wanted to build an Islamic school on the radio yesterday. "We've got all nationalities in our community! English, Scottish, Italian - we get on with people from ALL countries. But we don't want muslims. We're Australians here!". Fucking hell.
posted by Jimbob at 7:08 PM on May 27, 2008


Yes, that's an incredibly narrow-minded & hypocritical stance, Jimbob.

Especially when the obvious solution to the sexualisation of children is to dress them all up in burqas.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:22 PM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Especially when the obvious solution to the sexualisation of children is to dress them all up in burqas.
Then when they grew up they'd 'oppress our society, they'd take our welfare and they wouldn't want to accept our way of life'.
posted by tellurian at 7:46 PM on May 27, 2008


Another half-baked contradiction.

"Our way of life" is precisely about getting on welfare.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:26 PM on May 27, 2008


Miranda Devine's latest routine: a near-perfect parody of a self-righteous demogogue.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:57 PM on May 28, 2008


It's a wonderful piece, it covers just about everything that concerns people today - the 2020 summit, K Rudd, the moral cowardice of today's society, child exploitation, pornography, pedophiles, old masters, art criticism, the police state, jaywalking, speed cameras, parking laws, alcohol, drugs, the breakdown of society, the NT intervention, Aboriginal communities, Australian film, Sesame Street, sex change operations, the Victorian Family Court and Senate enquiries. I do think she should have squeezed in a few words about World Youth Day though.
posted by tellurian at 4:21 PM on May 29, 2008


Don't be ridiculous, tellurian. There's no way in the world - other than through convoluted mental gymnastics - that anybody could mention the Catholic church in a story about paedophilia.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:13 PM on May 29, 2008


I smell child exploitation! Quick, somebody call Miranda.
posted by flabdablet at 10:05 PM on May 30, 2008


"She said it could give people bad thoughts."
posted by Asymptote at 4:11 PM on June 1, 2008


If I've got this straight, they are investigating media outlets that published some of the pictures in reports on the story. The inquiries are related to child pornography. Will they really be accusing The Sydney Morning Herald of possession of child pornography? The lawyers will be rubbing their hands.
posted by tellurian at 7:32 PM on June 1, 2008


Yes, and Stuart Littlemore QC s now free to work on R v SMH, having successfully represented the Greatest Bogan in Australia (arguably) - Mercedes Corby - against her rival for the title.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:41 PM on June 1, 2008


The Henson affair appears close to collapse. "We are just handing our children on a bloody plate to pedophiles." says Hetty Johnston.
posted by tellurian at 8:21 PM on June 5, 2008


Anybody know where to score topless photos of a young Mohammed Haneef?
posted by flabdablet at 10:29 PM on June 5, 2008


oh, no, i'm not falling for that one.

not with the huge kiddyporn sting currently under way.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:41 PM on June 5, 2008


Are we still supposed to be using our Howard-era fridge magnets? Because if we are, that remark is suspicious enough that I should report you right now!
posted by flabdablet at 4:12 AM on June 6, 2008


flabbo: go ahead, be my guest.

but before you do...ask yourself whether the call centre operators have top-level security clearance?

or are the people answering the phones just any old shitkickers they can find who'd work for $12/hr - iraqis, somalis, tasmanians, afghans...
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:30 AM on June 6, 2008


Seems like Hetty Johnston likes it both ways:

Via Crikey:

Hetty Johnston's strange bedfellows
Bernard Keane writes:

Hetty Johnstons Crikey piece on Monday about the need to subordinate artistic freedom to human rights provides a new perspective on Johnston's own decision to accept support from the adult entertainment industry in 2004.

Johnston (who didnt return Crikeys call before deadline) accepted donations from adult industry companies Club X, Adultshop and Gallery totalling more than $4,000 for her Senate campaign in the 2004 election. Johnston attracted 0.18% of first preference votes in Queensland.

Eros Association head Fiona Patten said that, while disagreeing with Johnston over the Henson issue, the industry still supported her campaign against child abuse. Mal Day, head of Adultshop.com, also said that he continued to support Bravehearts. Day, who has been active in pushing the debate over the relationship between art and p-rnography for some years in Perth where he is based, agreed there was a tension between Johnstons views on the Henson issue and those of the adult industry.

Johnstons arguments against the work of Bill Henson are equally used by those who regarded p-rnography as exploitative of women. The adult entertainment industry, in all its forms, has been resisting such arguments, and the censorship that inevitably flows from them, for decades.

Meanwhile the Prime Minister has been a tad precious in his defence of his own comments on the Henson photos as revolting. Rudd told Jon Faine this morning that hed been asked as a parent what his opinion of the photos was, when clearly he wasnt he was asked that later in the same interview on Today. Apparently speaking as a parent provides greater moral authority, and certainly greater political cover, than speaking as Prime Minister. In any event, why make the distinction?

Other politicians might also want to revisit their reaction to the Henson photos. Tasmanian Liberal Guy Barnett devoted quite a bit of time in the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Estimates hearings Monday before lastto demanding to know from Mick Keelty why the AFP wasnt pursuing websites that had carried the Henson photos that morning. Keelty, for once the voice of moderation and sense, patiently explained that the AFP had real child abusers to pursue and only limited resources with which to do so.

Barnett was having none of it. The point is that you are creating your own threshold... the threshold that many in the community are concerned about is the abuse of children, the s-xualisation of children and the crimes that are being committed, but apparently we cannot catch all the offenders. That is the concern I am expressing and I think many in the community have likewise.

Too bad even the NSW Police dont think theres an offender here.
posted by strawberryviagra at 11:41 PM on June 8, 2008


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