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Thread: Bill Henson ... again

  1. #1
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    Bill Henson ... again

    http://www.news.com.au/national/alar...#ixzz1IEB8d6X5

    ARTIST Bill Henson is at the centre of a new storm after it was revealed school groups are being exposed to provocative photos of teenage girls at his new exhibition.

    Child protection advocates and parents' groups have expressed concern that school children are visiting the Melbourne exhibition, which includes a series of naked images of a young university student striking sexual poses and provocative shots of a younger teen, reported the Herald Sun.
    This article raises the old questions of what is art?, what is porn? and what is exploitation of children?

    Personally I'd like to see him stick to 18+ models and then there is no issue.
    Having seen his work, I personally think he goes too far considering the age of his models.

    Tolarno Galleries, which is housing the exhibition, claims to be "at the cutting edge of contemporary Australian art" but would not say how old the youngest girl in the photographs was.
    The 'art' excuse can cover a lot of exploitation.

    If I was to take naked images of a <18yo (lets say 12 or 14) and make them publicly available I would be quickly labelled
    a paedo might end up in gaol. Why is Bill Hensen subject to different laws?
    Is being an 'artist' an excuse from such laws makes you immune for such laws and morality?

    While not being a prude, I would not give permission of my child to be one of his models.


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    For me, pornography is images of sexual activity of some type. From what I have seen Bill Henson's Art is photographs of the naked teenage form, not in any way sexually suggestive or provactive. Being naked, to me, doesn't imply sexualised, other than the human form being seen as such, as we are sexual beings. As long as his work doesn't show sexual activity, I am fine with it. I don't see the difference between naked 2 years olds in the bath, naked teenagers standing in a room, the local firies stripping down, or the CWA ladies dropping their gear at 70 and 80 years old. The human form is beautiful!
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    The fact that it's controversial work lends credence to its status as "art". Porn is pretty much by definition vapid and devoid of any meaning apart from the obvious one of provoking arousal. Nakedness/nudity is not the same as pornography/abuse/exploitation. After all, if any image of a minor in any state of undress is to be considered pornography, then seeing ACTUAL minors in revealing garments should be considered a far greater crime, and kids should be banned from the beach for the good of all society.

    Just as it's possible to photograph artistically, I believe it's possible to paint or draw pornographically. This has been recently debated on the Internet due to the use of photo-realistically drawn images of young girls in provocative poses for the US clothing company American Apparel. The drawings in question are considerably more pornographic than any of Henson's photographs; but just because they're pencil rather than pixels, most people tend to associate them more with the masterpieces of Leonardo than the centrefolds of Playboy.

    I don't think Henson isn't the best artist-photographer in the world; but I do think his work is artistic, rather than pornographic. The outraged diatribes against his work tend to be far more gratuitous than the works they critique.

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    I agree the naked form is a thing of beauty, but posting 2yo bath-time pictures in the public (now-a-days) is a dangerous thing.
    I'm specifically focusing on the <18 (i.e. child) issue. Even our site rules don't allow <18yo nudes.

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    I kinda think that in some ways the age thing has become the whole POINT of Henson's work. I think his work challenges us to have exactly these conversations about youth, beauty, and challenges us to think about the beauty of humans in ways apart from sexual beauty. Basically, if Henson said "don't worry, all my models are over 18," you'd get a whole STACK of rednecks making lewd comments about the models and probably rating them, as if that magical age barrier somehow implied permission to treat his models as objects rather than subjects.

    By making their age indeterminate - and, in fact, controversially low in some cases - he forces everyone to view and converse about the beauty of his subjects in non-sexual ways. Nobody dares to comment on the attractiveness of Henson's subjects, whatever age they may be, because to do so could be the equivalent of yelling "I'm a sicko pervert!" in a crowded room. Instead, his fans tend to speak in hushed tones of the beauty of the PHOTOGRAPHS - not the models themselves.

    Henson's photographs therefore cause us to examine and challenge ourselves, our behaviours, and our fears - and therefore, by definition, I think they are art. Whether or not they are *good* art is a matter of personal taste.

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    Legalities...

    http://www.legalaid.vic.gov.au/745.htm

    You could be charged by the police with producing child pornography if:
    • you take a nude or semi-nude picture of a person under 18, even if they are your friend and consent (agree) to the picture being taken
    • you take photos or video of a person under 18 involved in sexual activity or posing in an indecent sexual manner (or who looks like they are)
    .
    http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/v...95882/s70.html

    (1) A person who knowingly possesses child pornography is guilty of an
    indictable offence.
    Penalty: Level 6 imprisonment (5 years maximum).
    (2) It is a defence to a prosecution for an offence against subsection (1) to
    prove-
    (a) in the case of-
    (i) a film; or
    (ii) a photograph contained in a publication; or
    (iii) a computer game- that at the time of the alleged offence the film,
    publication or computer game was classified other than RC or X or X
    18+ or would, if classified, be classified other than RC or X or X
    18+; or
    (b) that the film, photograph, publication or computer game possesses
    artistic merit or is for a genuine medical, legal, scientific or
    educational purpose
    ; or

    ...

    (3) Despite subsection (2)(b), the defence of artistic merit cannot be relied
    on in a case where the prosecution proves that the minor was actually under
    the age of 18 years.
    Last edited by Kym; 01-04-2011 at 1:57pm.

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    Despite the exception to the artistic merit exception, the whole of s70 hinges on the definition of "pornography". In most legal definitions, the meaning of that specific term hinges on whether or not it is designed to appeal to "prurient interests" - i.e. is it created to provoke sexual arousal.

    Whether or not it is of artistic merit becomes irrelevant, if the defence can first demonstrate that the material was not created in any way for the sexual interests of the creator or others, and is therefore not pornography.

    (Disclaimer: IANAL)
    (Disclaimer to disclaimer: but I did study a combined degree in in Law/IT at uni).
    Last edited by ElectricImages; 01-04-2011 at 2:08pm.

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    The interesting thing here is that Ms Hetty Johnston, the one making the complaint hasn't seen the exhibition but says "I have seen a book of his works; let me tell you, they are disgusting."

    Furthermore, the complaint is that Ms Johnston just believes many of Henson's works are "illegal" for the sake of it. This is despite Henson having received classification approval for the work.

    Remember folks, it IS 1 April and this article was posted before midday. More like Henson just trying to get a bit of extra free publicity.
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    Quote Originally Posted by ElectricImages View Post
    Whether or not it is of artistic merit becomes irrelevant, if the defence can first demonstrate that the material was not created in any way for the sexual interests of the creator or others, and is therefore not pornography.
    Then an awlful lot of advertising is pornography by that definition.

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    To say someone like Henson should make his images only using +18 year old models, is missing the point of the work.

    Long and the short of it is, a lot of people are idiots, with little of importance in their life - so they like to kick up a fuss about random things from time to time to make themselves feel better. I usually chose to ignore them until they find a new fad 'horror' to expose on ACA or the like.

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    wow doctors and specialists dealing with the human body must see a lot of "porn" if the definition of porn is a naked human standing/posing/whatever
    i dont see sexual intent with those photos - although the choice of subject matter is not to my taste either.

    BTW has anyone been to "MONA" http://mona.net.au/ in Tasmania?
    Some of the "art" in there would really bake a conservatists noodle
    Last edited by zollo; 02-04-2011 at 2:16am.
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    For heavens sake they took year 12 photography students to the exhibit..........not kindy kids. Would there be such objections if they were at an exhibit of voluptuous nudes by some old dead painter? or an exhibit of magazine covers? If you dont like his ' art ' dont attend the axhibit

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    Zollo, I have been to MONA. I came away amazed, intrigued and disgusted. I agree, there is a photo at MONA of a man and a dog simulating sex together, images (video) of people cutting genitalia off humans (special effects used). These were way more confronting to me than a posed naked human form.

    If anyone gets the chance to visit MONA, here in Hobart, do so, it has been chosen as the worlds best experience, above the taj mahal and louvre amongst others.

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    I don't think Henson's work is that extraordinary - they are good images, well handled, but I've seen other work as good on various internet art sites, for a lot less money because the artist has not had their name in the newspapers and a lot of fuss made of them.

    And all that controversy is bl00dy good for sales after all - how many of us could get $30,000 for works of similar quality (and I think many on here capable of producing them)? As Kym says, we'd be labelled dirty perves.

    That said, Hetty Johnston seems to go overboard, if she can see a bit of skin it is porn. She has been discredited in some circles, I read at the time of the last Henson fracas.

    As to the Y12 students, I imagine they would all be 17-18 yr olds? More likely to be embarrassed at seeing naked images with a teacher there, I can visualise a lot of elbow poking and giggling to cover up the embarrassment. I'd be more worried if they took younger children.
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    To use the "art" excuse is disingenuous. From memory, Henson has said something along the lines of "exploring the awakening of sexuality" regarding the pictures at the center of the last controversy. IMO, sexuality is implicit in his photographs, and hence hang around the fringes of "child porn" regardless of the "artiness" which separates them from "real" porn.

    I am not a prude, but I don't think producing art separates you from the laws of the land.
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    Photographs of young teenagers may implicitly explore issues regarding sexual development. But there's a big difference between exploring themes and exploiting them. There are hundreds of mainstream films, some of which are probably on your list of "favourites," - films like "Dirty Dancing" for example - that explore exactly the same themes artfully and tastefully. Just because the 17-year-old character "Baby" has a sex scene with Patrick Swayze doesn't make it porn. In the movie "Thirteen" there is frequent sex, violence and drug use amongst the young teens.

    The emergence of sexuality is a recurring theme in all arts, because frankly, it's a momentous, memorable and important stage of life. There is not a single comparable phase in the human lifespan that involves so much personal change and uncertainty (except, possibly, death). That photography is singled out as the only area of the arts unable to explore or portray themes of adolescence is mostly a result of knee-jerk reactionism rather than well-considered social and cultural policy, IMHO.

    After all, the depiction or re-creation of other social issues isn't banned. There are horrific, gore-filled films, TV shows and games depicting violent rape, sadistic torture, murder and abuse every night on your TV in your living room. None of that turns us all into murderous and violent criminals. Does seeing Bill Henson's work leave ordinary gallery viewers perilously in danger of becoming child molesters? Certainly not. As for arguments that the images might be used by people with existing perversions - I'd argue that with the number of weird fetishes out there there isn't anything on the human body or that's worn on it that doesn't appeal sexually to someone out there. We may as well all wear burkhas, though I dare say even then there might be a burkha fetishist or two out there.
    Last edited by ElectricImages; 02-04-2011 at 9:48am.

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    Interesting comments by all.
    I agree with Kym and Farmer Rob's comments and so won't repeat them.
    Exploitation is exploitation be it for the purposes of art, publicity, finance or sex. Children should not be exploited.
    Electric Images - interesting points except I don't believe photography is singled out (except perhaps in this discussion) movies, videos, games etc of the types that you have mentioned are not acceptable to many either.
    I wouldn't be happy for my children to be photographed and exhibited in such a way.
    Last edited by la lumiere; 02-04-2011 at 10:00am.
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    Some of this thread sounds a bit 'Bill Hicks'. I found myself grinning and thinking about the Coke commercial.
    I haven't seen the exhibition so I can't really comment on them.
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    @la lumiere: Well okay, let's agree in principle: children should not be exploited.

    But how is creating an image that may involve the use of a minor as a model, automatically exploitation? Should there be no child actors then? None of Henson's dozens of models, or their parents, have ever complained of exploitation.

    And while you're absolutely in your rights to decide what is best for you and your children, that same standard can't be applied to all of society. There are, as you mention, some people who would just as quickly ban all of the games, movies, music videos and other cultural works depicting undesirable images, if it was up them their individual tastes. I dare say they'd be quite happy to burn books they didn't like too.

    Children shouldn't be exploited. But I don't see any evidence that using minors as photographic subjects is automatically exploitation.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ElectricImages View Post
    ...but how is creating an image that may involve the use of a minor as a model, automatically exploitation? [...] None of Henson's dozens of models, or their parents, have ever complained of exploitation.

    Children shouldn't be exploited. But I don't see any evidence that using minors as photographic subjects is automatically exploitation.
    This, surely, must be the guiding principle in determining whether it is acceptable for Henson to use young models or not - is harm is being done to them by posing? Some people will never be convinced in the negative, but that's about belief rather than rational thought; There is no evidence of any kind that any of Henson's many models - he has been photographing teenagers for decades - feel exploited or in any way harmed or diminished by having worked with him. There is substantial evidence that people have benefited from their experience - when the Sydney debacle happened, a number of his models and their families came out in support of him and his work - but nothing anywhere to suggest anything negative.

    In the same way, the various authorities who scrutinised the works in Sydney found no evidence that the images were sexualised or exploitative. That show actually got a PG rating from the Censorship Board. Henson is not getting any sort of a free pass because he's an artist. Even though he is one: a very serious, scholarly & world renowned artist whose work sits within a long tradition of the use of nudes.

    I find it fascinating and saddening that people get up in arms about Henson when highly exploitative and sexualised imagery, very often involving children, is beamed from nearly every billboard and TV ad and music video. I think the controversy around Henson's work says much more about us and the way we can no longer see nudity without it creating a pornographic echo in our minds, than it does about Henson and his delicate and haunting images.

    The other really interesting aspect of this for me, and one with perhaps the greatest relevance in a forum such as this, is that I am certain that the only reason any of this is in the public eye is that Henson uses a camera to make art, rather than oil paint or marble or some other traditional artist's medium. The fact that the camera, ubiquitous though it is, is rarely used (as a serious tool at least) by artists really confuses people I think. Nearly everybody has a camera and we are all familiar with photographs, in many different contexts, so people associate their existing understanding of photography with what Henson is doing. This is not the same as what we do when we look at a painting or sculpture and I think it stops some people from seeing it for what it is, because they think they recognise it. A version of the "I could have done that" response that we've all probably heard.

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