Pornography, Censorship and Art. Same old, Same old!

I am severely lacking in writing inspiration today.

Not that I don’t have a lot to write about. I have a very important subject to write about. It is just that the words wont come out in a satisfying way.

Australians will know what I want to write about when I mention the name “Bill Henson“.

Considered by many to be Australia’s foremost photographer, he is fascinated by twilight, the space between day and night, by adolescence, that space between child and adult. The moment of hesitancy. He has been exhibited around the world and his work is hung in some of the most prestigious galleries.

Online, some of his work is visible and much more can be seen on the net – just google the name and then click on “Images”.

Now to the the subject, the controversy. The best way to follow the developments is through a series of news items.

It began five days ago when police raided a Sydney art gallery. Within hours, the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd weighed into the debate and the police began questioning the photographer. Betty Churcher, head of Australia’s National Art Gallery gave her opinion while some of the subjects themselves spoke out. The controversy widened to another gallery while more than 40 of Australia’s leading writers and artists supported Henson. Today the police have rejected the art world’s outcry, while two prominent politicians have supported the photographer.

In another report today, Louise Adler, the head of Melbourne University Publishing, one of 44 prominent figures who have signed an open letter urging Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to rethink his condemnation of the photos as “absolutely revolting”, calls the controversy a ‘beat-up’.

“I don’t believe that paedophiles and pornographers are going to rush to Roslyn Oxley’s gallery to find Bill Henson’s work for stimulation,” she said. “The question is, is it a private matter, one of taste or is it that the community has to come down and make a judgement?

Do we need to be chaperoned by the state on these questions?” she asked.

I don’t believe we do. Although I know a lot of people will disagree with me.

Everyone’s comments are welcome, although I do reserve the right to adjust the wording, but not the intent of some comments, where those comments may be viewed as offensive by some readers of the archive.

So that truly informed debate can take place, the image which originally sparked this controversy is over the jump.

Despite the internet censoring by the police, I was able to find this image on the website of The Age newspaper from Melbourne.

Yes, it is a nude young girl.

No, it is not pornographic unless you believe nudity itself to be intrinsically pornographic. In which case I will remind you that not only did you arrive in this world in a pornographic state, but, beneath your clothes, you are STILL pornographic!

49 Responses

  1. Hmmmm….. Tricky subject. I guess for me it boils down to the knowing consent of the young girl. I am personally very happy to be naked, but then at near as damn it 50 I am entitled to do as I please with this body of mine. Should we protect minors? Yes I think we should. From art? probably not. From pornography? definitely yes. Then who defines which is the purpose in each set of circumstances? A bit of a conundrum really.

    • it may not be pornographic but what can i do if my penis is erected by watching this because really what i want to say that i didnt create it so i dont have any control over it and the thing is that sexual pleasure is possible even not seeing the opposite sex just by imagining. so what does it mean to expose it. can anyone guarantee that no penis will erect seeing this

  2. I agree with Angela. I have no problem with nudity, as long as the nude person is consenting.

    Which brings us to the vexed question of how old someone has to be in order to be deemed mature enough to give such an informed consent, rather than just being exploited.

    At this age, the young woman in the picture would be unable to give consent to a medical treatment on her own body – even to taking the contraceptive pill in some countries – without her parents’ consent.

    However, I also think that Henson is, in fact, doing his art and the messages he is trying to communicate (about the cusp, the fragility, the space between etc) a disservice by having nude subjects. It puts the focus too much on physical changes, whereas adolescence is as much about the development of minds as it about the development of bodies.

  3. I love bill henson’s work and I do not believe it to be pornographic.

    I used to say the same about Larry Clark’s – loved the Tulsa photographs and his first films. then I saw Ken Park (the film that was banned) which seemed like a romp in paedophilia land and left a bad taste in my mouth.

    i think it can be a fine line between art and pornography but Bill Henson is still on the art side. that image is beautiful.

  4. I think the The Age is taking some sort of stand by publishing this image; i reckon they’ve got a team of lawyers on it, and they’re trying to prove something pro-Henson. And good on them for that.

    Conversely, the Herald Sun today ran a Henson piece by everyone’s favourite extreme right wing columnist, Andrew Bolt. It’s wonderful the way Andrew can boil a complex situation down to him being right and everyone else being wrong.

    I’m not an artist of the producing-an-image kind, so i’m mainly interested in this topic as an observer and appreciator of fine art and public debate. Jennie (who i found through tags) is actually an artist, and she has some interesting stuff to say on the matter of art vs porn.

    Also, KRudd has come out and defended himself against Our Cate on his blog…

    So it’s all happening.

  5. I don’t think this is pornography in the grossest sense. Though it could be used as such. Lolita by Nabakov has the same duo possibilities. That doesn’t mean either Lolita or this photo should be banned.

    I would like to be sure that the girl photographed ( and her parents) is comfortable with what was done. After that leave art alone.

  6. I’ve been musing over this from last night. No concrete conclusion, but my personal feeling is that if everybody had butted out and just left the exhibition to go ahead as per normal for this type of exhibition there would have been no hue and cry over it being “pornography” or anything else but some artist showing his work. In other words, the invited literati would have seen it, commented under the influence of Chablis or whatever about how “evocative” it was, gone away and waited for the next exhibition. As it is, the Mother Grundy’s of this world have arisen to the fray and everything is now a major fight about censorship and artistic freedom. I’ve seen the work … before Channel 2 had it removed from the Sunday Arts program, and it’s not to my taste, but it’s certainly not pornographic either. It’s in black and white, which is also not to my taste, but that’s MY taste and I do not impose MY taste on other people.

    The model and her parents find the work OK … they gave permission for the photographer to do the work, the girl (who is quite a mature young woman apparently) felt no shame in doing the sitting. At least … until some do-gooder decided she should be shamed for sitting for such a “pornographic” series of photographs.

    Intriguing that this is classified as pornographic and the beautiful photos of Anne Geddes are considered not to be in the same class! One is “porn”, the other is “sooooo cute”. Please explain … a 13 year old girl is pornographic and a naked baby is not? Hmmmmmmmm. Paedophiles unite???

  7. Thank you all for your input. It confirms in my mind that there is indeed a difference between Pornography and Art. The great fear seems to be that, with respect to paedophiles, we should ban anything which they may use to feed their sick minds. The classic “turn-on” is the schoolgirl in her uniform. Does this mean we need to ban school uniforms? Or is there an underlying fear of nakedness amongst a large proportion of society? Similar to those fundamentalist “Hell Fire and Damnation” preachers with their mistresses who preach against adultery is there a group of those who rant against nudity yet scuttle home to gloat over their internet porn?

  8. If this girl wants to be nude to public then I say,
    “Go ahead,” because art will always be art as long as the person in the portrait feels good about him or herslf. Even though this girl is nude, she shows not only how a girl can easily be pressured to take her clothes off, but how girls today are being tempted for attention. This girl has attention (maybe more than she wants), along with all the sex predators online.
    I have taken art clases myself, and I call this art, along with my collection of this and many other nude posters. If this girls wants to do this then let her, But as she grows she will soon feel unprotected as thousands stare at her day by day.

  9. I personally don’t believe that what Henson does is pornographic. The difference between pornography and art is the intentions behind the photograph. As was stated previously that Henson’s work is about the twighlight zone between childhood and adulthood, and how people explore this. I know myself that this is a difficult subject to broach, and I commend the young lady for having the self confidence to show her most vulnerable self to the world. This is not easy to do, and I feel that this has only become an issue due to the interference by the media, when really the artworks should be assessed on their individual qualities.

  10. as a feminist who has conducted many surveys about issues such as pornography i would like to add a comment that naked is fortunately what we are under a frock and that the nude in art imaging is up to the beholder.

    • Thank you, Corinne. I fear that the Mother Grundys of our society tend to get into positions where they can impose their minority view on the rest of us.

      There – I didn’t mention Senator Conroy or Senator Fielding once – aren’t I good :)

  11. I would agree that the intention of the artist should be seriously reflected on and not re packaged or de-contextualised to change that authentic intention. My view on this matter is that such actions are called cultural misaprpropriation and a re akin to intellectual theft. Bill Henson’s photographic art is highly refined and is a contemporary articulation of what in the Western civilization a long history of artists engaging with and commenting, with original views and interpretations about the human condition. This is what art is. Art comments upon, raises awareness about our place on the planet and our political, historical and social dimensions. To reduce this to an agument of censorship is indicative of tendencies in an age of decreasing intellectual capabilty to dismiss the place of original thought and the expression of original ideas. I would recommend to those who would want to expend their surplus energy attacking artists to get a hobby.

  12. I think it’s amazing how some things get blown out of proportion and are scorned while others are praised.

    I am reminded of the “Nirvana Baby” who is 17 now, I believe, and famous. Wherever I look I see nothing but good things for him, and it makes me sad to think that even though there are others who are praised for their artistic nude images this poor girl may be known in a darker light in the future, simply because someone was having a bad day and decided they would push their views on the rest of the world.

    America’s world views are skewed already. We really don’t need more reason for the world to think we have our heads up you-know-where. The land of “freedom”.. that censors everything… At this rate, where will it end?

    Art is art, simple as that. And it should be viewed as such. Let an artist determine whether or not something is art. Not someone who has not an ounce of artistic integrity. I feel as if this argument is akin to the view of seperation of church and state. They have no business dictating what the other should do.

    Yes, I agree that children need to be protected. But when people are saying that neither the child nor the parents know better than the state what’s best for the child… to me that makes absolutely no sense at all.

  13. she is so hot i love it!

  14. Isnt’t that picture illegal?

  15. I do believe that this isn’t pronography, but it is does straddle a fine line. I believe pornography to be something that is done to arouse the senses and find more ‘artistic’ photos to be done in darker lighting with an intention to cause thought about the subject. And, very true, we were born naked, yet, we’re made to feel insecure about it and especially our bodies too. Very interesting subject and post!

  16. Hawt.

  17. I have seen so many sexy pictures of young girls naked on the internet, that this one seems just boring. Actually, she looks bored herself.

  18. this is not porn

  19. the problem is that this girl is way to young to be making these decisions like this and nor should her parents. people seem to forget that images like this will NEVER disappear. they are stuck to her like superglue. imagine 20 years down the road someone passing around pics of this in the office cause they stumbled on it cruising the net. once you 18 do what you want but until then they are minors and they should not be allowed to do this stuff.

    i also get a bit annoyed about anything and everything being called art. taking a snapshot of someone in dim light isnt exactly a da vinci masterpiece or even close. people cannot just use “but its art” to justify anything and everything they do. society has limits for a reason. just like their are limits on free speech and even freedom of religion (human sacrifices are a no-no).

    i want everyone to imagine walking along the beach with their preteen daughter in her bikini, now how would you react if some guy started ogling her. he says that hes only admiring her figure for “artistic” reasons. would anyone seriously by that. how is that any different than than most people staring at this photo…….does anyone seriously think that alot of guys are admiring the background lighting and use of black and white film as a medium…….seriously how naive do you have to be.

  20. I only consider this to be pornography if it is being sold, or used for sexual purposes! If it is only being used to be viewed as art, than it is all right.

  21. very nice that pic is sexy mmmmmmmmm

  22. Isn’t that pic illegal? I mean god she looks 11.

  23. [...] Posts Pornography, Censorship and Art. Same old, Same old!For No Reason At AllNude Gymnastics and SwimmingMost Beautiful Thai TransexualThe Best Camel Toe [...]

  24. If your under 18 it pornography, if your 18 or over it’s art. No kid should have naked pics on the Internet for some creepers to look at. Some people may see it as art but others see it as… However a creep would see it. End of discussion!

  25. how old is that girl?

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  27. dat ez fukin wrong blud

  28. First of all look at her! She looks sad. Depressed almost. Even if u want to take a nude pic of a girl and call it art ok BUT under 18 there should be no question there are many sick minds out there today. And even if he took the pic thinking of art he should know that taking nudes of a girl under 18 is not good. Everyone has there view on the matter but i think if he does it again there should be a punishment!

    • So, what’s worth: A paedophile jacking off to this photo at home in front of his computer or said paedophile preying on children outside? Nudity in itself is not, and will never be, pornography. Pornography implies sexual content, erect penises in motion, spread labia, sexually suggestive images. It can be argued that this image could be sexually suggestive, but so could a picture of the eiffel tower to someone who is Object Sexual. You all know the difference between nude art and porn. And age doesn’t matter. I will take a wild guess and say that most of you have pictures of yourself, childred, grandchildren etc. naked or almost naked from some trip to the beach, bathtub as baby… I can go on. The human body is beautiful and should be treasured. This girl has not been hurt or harmed in any way by posing for this picture, has she? She was brave enough to be photographed at her most vunerable, and the result was a great photo that, sadly, people argue about on the net…

  29. she still young but i think the decision is taken by herself for this photo

  30. First of all you nitwits who can’t “spel” should either keep your comments brief, or at the very least use spellcheck prior to posting! In addition to the uptighties who can’t stand looking at this type of ART, DON’T VIEW IT!!! Also to the ignates that have no concept of good photography, don’t even begin to determine what lighting does or doesn’t do for the quality of a good picture. I photograph for a living, and actually this particular one is excellent! As if that even needs to be established. Whether or not one approves of this photo is of course up to the individual, but please don’t judge, because karma can be a BITCH!!!

    • Holy spelling Nazis batman! Hey batmann are you schizophrenic or what. Giving people crap for spelling incorrectly then telling us not to judge.
      God how I despise grammar Nazis. There are so many grammatical infractions in your high horse rant it’s almost laughable to see you criticize others. You are a jerk.
      As far as this photo goes , I don’t know if it’s art or not. Does shading make it so?

  31. The issue is explicit images of sexual acts with children. Because a child has to be molested or raped to obtain them. Like by their parents. Display of female nipples between the ages of 2 and 18 isn’t in the same ballpark. In some cultures and on some beaches such displays are entirely unremarkable. Sorry if this is blunt. If people are debating whether this is “art”, worrying about consent, or merely uncomfortable with the images, it just isn’t a concern.

  32. if you think this is pornography don’t even get me started on almost all Greek and Geko-Roman art having nudity children are people too and honestly if someone finds a picture attractive don’t blame them now if she was being trafficked in some way i might understand but she was not being abused at all people can do what they want with their bodies need i even mention the hundreds of nudist camps across the globe or how much of pre-civilized culture didn’t show anything different than these pictures take the bushmen of the Kalahari for example most wemon and expicially the young ones dident wear shirts most only wore some type of loincloth or skirt

    truly yours
    The Historian

  33. For what reason will not the links on the top menu of the site web page that submit a message work for me? Appreciate it

  34. I think girls should be allowed in porn if they are ok with it

  35. In my opinion, nature tells you when a girl becomes an adult. If a girl becomes its period, nature tells the men: hey! look, this is a young woman with perfect genes that you should mate with. And 18 is a freaking limit set by modern civilization – do you mean every single person thats over 18 should have the right to have a gun JUST because hes 18? I dont think so, because even over 18yo’s can be freaking stupid and not mature at all and some 14 year olds are more mature then some parents… nature mostly doesnt have any indicators for a “year” – the time it takes earth to pass around our sun once. Evolution arranged that humans become “adults” at the teen age, when their sexual organs are completely developed, and NOT when the earth rounded the sun for the 18th time. There are hundreds of thousands of 18 and 19 year old women out in the world which havent reached the end of puberty and look like freaking FOURTEEN. So should they be allowed to be pictured nude on the internet? The Tistorian is completely right with his argument of those hundreds of bushmen civilizations…

  36. she is a beautiful young girl with nothing to be ashamed of, the people that beleive this is porn should be ashamed. now no one should ever be photographed naked without their consent but at the age of 13 this girl is plenty old enough to consent. one personal thought and it is just mine, nothing to do with porn; why on earth didn;t bill henson photgraph this beautiful young girl smiling and happy? she looks very depressed or at least bored to death, well meaning people probably thought that she was forced to pose nude which is the probabable cause of nearly all of the controversy this picture has generated. and bill you are a great artist and this is how you choose to photograph her but in this day and age one must/should be very careful to the “let other peoples imaginations” get away from them!

  37. hi!,I like your writing so a lot! percentage we be in contact extra approximately your article on AOL? I require an expert on this space to solve my problem. Maybe that is you! Having a look forward to see you.

  38. This IS NOT ART….This is exploiting a child, it is a form of abuse. What do you think they would have given to her, and done to her before they got their shots….PLEASE!!!! Wake up….CHILDREN ARE SUPPOSE TO BE OUR FUTURE, NOT SICK TWISTED PHOTOGRAPHERS THAT LIKE TO HIDE BEHIND SHADY LIGHTS…

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