U of S | Mailing List Archive | alt-photo-process-l | Re: slightly OT - another photographic controversy

Re: slightly OT - another photographic controversy

Bill Henson is quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald as saying he photographs
these young people because "They seem to be the most effective vehicle for
expressing the things that interest me about humanity and vulnerability and
our sense of ourselves living inside our bodies." The other prominent
photographers working with similar subject matter are no doubt equally
high-minded (and hopefully less opaque).

Unfortunately images of young people can also become vehicles for a form of
gratification that society generally regards as illicit, and therefore
prohibits by provisions of the criminal law. It is not difficult to
understand why politicians and police are reluctant to allow citizens to
look at photos of models whom, because of their age and vulnerability,
society protects from the same level of exposure in person.

A problem would arise if Mr Henson's chosen form of expression produced
images that were not sufficiently different from those produced by others
for illicit purposes (as to which I cannot express a view from what is
visible over the internet). A photographer whose work fell into that
category would always run some risk of prosecution. The counter-charge of
philistinism would provide such a photographer with little defence in the
absence of proof that, in a gallery context at least, the viewer's gaze
arises from pure aesthetic sensitivity, and nothing lewd or illicit occurs.
Such a defence is maybe even more difficult when the photos are published in
a book or on the internet. The question ultimately is whether or not the
photos are, for want of a better word, innocent.

If Mr Henson's current problem has something to do with the extremely close
correspondence a modern colour photo appears to have with its object, then
finding a means of expression that reduces that correspondence, or increases
the distance between images and objects, might provide a solution for him.
On that purely speculative basis I wonder whether he would be safer
operating in the lower fidelity world of alt photo.

Don Sweet

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Catherine Rogers" <chrogers@bigpond.com>
To: <alt-photo-process-l@usask.ca>
Sent: Monday, May 26, 2008 3:27 PM
Subject: slightly OT - another photographic controversy

> HI all,
> As things seem to be a little quiet on the list, and I am putting off
> going into the studio to get down to some real work, I thought I'd pass
> on some news on a photgraphic scandal now in progress here in Sydney,
> Australia.
> The list has had discussions about censorship and the photography of
> children or minors or young or under-legal-age people in the past. So if
> this is going to stir things up too much, please don't read on. It is
> not my intention to make trouble, simply to point out that, in this
> country at least, we have just returned to the 1960s - to a time when
> the police closed a shop in Oxford St in Sydney, and confiscated a
> poster of Michelangelo's statue of David!  BIG sigh.
> Anyway, late last week the police went to the opening of a show of
> photographs by Bill Henson and closed it down, based on their assesment
> of some of his images. The Gallery is regarded as a leading Sydney
> Gallery (Roslyn Oxley9) and Henson is very well known in Australia and
> was Australia's rep. at the Venice Biennale some years ago. Henson's
> significant reputation was forged, in fact, on the very stuff that has
> now been censored and taken away in a big truck by the police.
> Henson makes his own big dark, moody, C41 prints (so this is not truly
> an alt proc item, but sometimes he tears the prints and gives them rough
> edges like an alt print...), staged scenes, with the main subjects of
> his work being mainly young people - adolescents - often very vulnerable
> looking young people. Henson's new images, which are frontal images of
> an adolescent female, have attracted outraged allegations of pornography
> and pedophillia - attracting bomb threats. Such are the kinds of people,
> who have not even seen the images, but who have condemmed them. Sadly
> even the new Prime Minister has weighed in with a stupid, ignorant
> comment, causing many of us who had recently held some hope for the
> renewed appreciation of the status of culture - totally degraded under
> the previous conservative Government - to feel downright disillusioned
> all over again.
> It's a real ding-dong battle in the press, politics and the community,
> with pages of the newspaper covering the issue. Anyone interested can
> check out the (generally very parochial) Sydney Morning Herald, and this
> article for instance:
> Also the Australian newspaper for its articles over the last few days.
> Interestingly, on the weekend, the Australian newspaper's magazine
> featured an advertisement whcih, to my eyes, showed 2 young women who
> could have been 14 years old - the same age as one of Henson's subjects.
> Both newspapers also feature some good photographs of the whole event
> including Henson's actual censored photographs - now complete with
> little black rectangles over the 'offending' body parts.
> in despair,
> Catherine