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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

avoiding henson « Previous | |Next »
June 6, 2008

Is anyone else beginning to think the ABC has hired a tabloid writer to compose their headlines?

Henson avoids charges over National Gallery photos

What do they mean by "avoids" exactly? Henson doesn't appear to have done anything other than sit around waiting to see what the authorities would turn up. If anything, it was the AFP who avoided laying charges.


Rudd sticks with Henson assessment

So what? That's about as relevant as "Rudd brushes hair" or "Rudd wears shirt, tie".

The actual story is that the Classification Board rated the photographs PG and the AFP had a look at them and decided there was nothing to fuss over. In view of the magnitude of the issue you'd think that these developments would be treated seriously, but no - instead we get Henson is a big, fat avoider and Rudd has a personal opinion.

With all their swan diving into the digital age the ABC should know better than to credit its now interactive audience with so little intelligence.

| Posted by Lyn at 1:27 PM | | Comments (30)


the Sydney Morning Herald says that:

The picture [of the naked girl that sparked the Bill Henson fuss] came to the [Classification Board ]... for classification when it was found in a blog discussing pornography and the sexualisation of children. The classifiers found the "image of breast nudity … creates a viewing impact that is mild and justified by context … and is not sexualised to any degree.

Do you think that the blog referred to is junk for code? Was this blog the only one to post said picture? Do you know?

LP posted a couple, cautiously, a while after you did. As far as I'm aware, you posted more and earlier. I imagine some were worried about the possible consequences. Some wanted to see them so they'd know what they were talking about, but didn't know where to find them. Rolan at The Boomtown Rap for example. That suggests to me that very few blogs posted the pics, given Google, though I didn't check the artsy blogs.

There seems to be some confusion over exactly what the board classified, whether it was the one pic from the invite, the collection for the exhibition in question, the whole lot, what appeared on the net as a whole or what appeared at the gallery site.

It does say a blog with the pic was discussing the issue, but can you rely on MSM journos to know the difference between a blog, a non-interactive essay, a YouTube video and a roll of toilet paper?

I wondered whether you'd have the constabulary knocking on your door in the wee small hours.

In short, it's a bit more than possible that JFC was the blog in question.

Here's an interesting example of what happens when someone's trying to work out what they think without seeing the pics

and what they think after they have seen them

He's not the only one making the argument. Jack Marx made a similar point

Boomtown rap reduces the aesthetics of the Henson photos to reader response independent of context in which they are exhibited.

The shift here is away from from the author (intention) to the reader. Instead of asking what the text means, the shift is to responses of the reader---an implied ideal reader at that (a paedophile). The concern is with the meanings of the text created by paedophile readers. The text is what the paedophile reads.

Apart from all the hooplah that the media has created.
And what the police have done.
There is a body that classifies our viewing.
And that body has spoken.
So the pictures fall into that viewing.
And thats that.

not quite. Hetty Johnston and her backers are going to change the law. The law is wrong.

What Johnston does not say is that her financial backers have included the adult entertainment industry.

the school teacher case Jack Marx mentions is different from Henson's case. The former--consists of Daryl Quick's photos of schoolgirls on the walls of his bedroom and his private fantasies and desires in his diaries whilst employed as a school teacher. Henson is creating art works that were exhibited in art galleries and which were disseminated on the internet.

Marx is right about the significance of 'harm', as it is the key concept for utilitarians to judge what is good and bad in terms of consequences. Utilitarianism is our public philosophy as it were. Of course, many law and order conservatives reject utiltiarianism in favour of desert. Retributivism offers a model that is not about consequences at all. Instead, retributivism is about punishing offenders because they deserve punishment. Deserve punishment means to be morally blameworthy. The retributivist thus believes that the sole just end of punishment is to make the morally blameworthy suffer the sanctions we call punishment.

Henson, for Betty Johnston, deserved punishment. The guilty deserve punishment; punishment is their just desert. Punishment is proportional to guilt. People are punished because they are guilty, and for no other reason. Henson was guilty for Johnson. For her it is wrong not to punish the guilty. For her the consequences of punishment are irrelevant to determining when and how much to punish.

I think that the art industry must fall into line with the classifications of film and television. Where there is public viewing areas should be ropes off if the art work is deemed PG or above.That is fair.
Personally I find the fact that Henson continues to take this type of picture weird.
Whats next? Will he and others be photographing nude dead children?
Art cannot put itself above the law of the land.

Hetty seems to have got herself into a spot of bother over some of her backers. The industry has nominally done the right thing for itself, but in the black and white world of debate it could do her a lot of damage.

I agree with Les that the classification should see the end of this, and also that we should consider classifying art in some way, though I would not agree with the board being able to censor art.

The point about photographing nude dead children is interesting. Remember that famous photo of the full frontal nude Vietnamese girl running along the road away from the bombing? Not dead, but somewhere in the vicinity.

We don't get huffy about nudity and paedophilia over that pic, instead we consider it an important message. Maybe some pics of nude, dead Iraqi kids would be a good thing for us to think about.

The Quick case is similar in regards to the cries for punishment, despite there being no victim. That was what I thought Marx was getting at - that in the rush to condemn innocent people get trampled.

It wasn't about the pictures but about how willing we are to live in straight jackets in the name of safety.

I know the pic you mean and agree. Also I see the point about dead(not nude) children in Iraq as a message.
The difference is that Henson is in the business of taking these types of pictures for display and ultimately sale to the public. The shock factor is the wow factor and ultimately values them and they will be up in price at the moment I guess.
He is a good photographer granted but how much would he be getting for pics of trees and would they be regarded as "Art"

The reason I said nude and dead Iraqi kids is because that pic of the little Vietnamese girl was doubly shocking *because* she was naked. When you look at it you know her clothes were burned off. It adds a kind of scale that puts that one little girl into a more ugly perspective. How many other kids were burned so badly they couldn't run?

There's been much made of the photos for money thing and exploitation, in which case you have to look at the David Jones catalogue part of the argument. At that rate, way more people are exposed to little kids in underwear with 'bite me' or 'boy bait' scrawled on them and as far as I know the boys in blue haven't been knocking on David Jones' door. And you're right about the value of Henson's work. It will be worth way more after this.

Good photographers make money out of what they do. The photographer of the Vietnamese girl included. Some photographers do fish, some do trees, some do buildings, some do machinery, some do teenage angst. Henson does teenage angst. As a father you'd understand that kids this age go through some pretty confusing stuff and we'd be better at helping them through it if we thought about it instead of trying to pretend it's not happening.

You also have to consider that one stupid journalist is responsible for making sure that the whole country saw the photos, instead of the handful that might have seen them if she'd kept her mouth shut. I agree with those saying she should apologise to Henson, and she should certainly apologise to the models and their parents.

It's not a simple topic to discuss and like most things the media gets hold of it's been talked about in yes/no or black/white terms. It's way too complicated for that. A bit like the age 13 itself really - messy and over emotional.

I'd also add that the real kiddy porn thing going on at the moment puts the Henson thing into better perspective. There are kids being held captive, some pre-school age, and regularly tortured by sickos. Makes the Henson photos look harmless by comparison.

You make valid points.
To get to the crux of this issue and whether there is justification for legal avenues to be pursued.
Firstly,the photos were never porn and for them to be reported as porn was wrong.In normal circumstances if those appearing in the pics were older than the age of consent they would always been rated "R" "M" or "PG".
After a complaint was made to the police the police removed the pics because on inspection they seemed to show underage children in various stages of undress. The police do not have the right to go into art galleries and say you can or cant hang this. Because of the age of children involved they decided to remove the pics and get legal opinion on them under controlled circumstances. The film footage of the police taking them was sensationalized. The police acted for the good of the community. If the police had of yellow taped off the galleries and spent a week coming and going it would of been a complete media circus and not in the best interests of the community and public safety.
It is not the police's job to police what is art and what is not. This art or not art story was whipped up by the media because it was the biggest story of the day. Rightly or wrongly so.
After getting legal advice the pics were decided by the police not to be porn and returned.
It is important in this issue not to drag too much outside stuff into it. Things that aren't central to this issue. Pics of kids in the Myer catalog, the current kiddy porn investigation,pics of kids in war and other scenarios. These are emotive issues but are not central.

The issue here is whether these kids were exploited for financial gain. The kids I assume (but requires further investigation)were paid for their performance/time. The kids signed or had their legal guardians give permission for their input(but requires further investigation)
Does a guardian have the right to allow a photographer to photograph their under age charges in various stages of undress and vulnerability for payment for the purpose of financial gain?

Yes there was legal advice that a case for whether these pics were pornographic if actioned would not proceed and was correct.
But the case that I have outlined would.

you seem to know little about Henson's work when you talk about the "shock value". He has been doing this work for ten years or more with little fuss until now. How come? A political campaign by cultural conservatives.

He also takes photos of suburban trees in Melbourne, and they are usually an integral part, along with buildings, of his exhibitions about teenage angst and sexuality.

You also seem to have a thing about art. Art is what is exhibited in an art gallery.

how come none of the models or their parents go on about "exploitation"? They publicly say that they fully support his work.

It's only conservatives like Hetty Johnston who have raised the issue in an attempt to show that Henson's intent in taking the photos was depraved and that he committed a crime. It strikes me that you are supporting Johnston in trying to find a way to justify her tacit claim that Henson deserves to be punished because he is morally blameworthy. Exploitation is now being rolled out to do the job that porn once did and no longer can do since the Classification Board has found the images not to be porn.

The retributivist--like Johnston (and yourself it would seem) --- believes that the sole just end of punishment is to make the morally blameworthy suffer the sanctions we call punishment.

I see your point and where your coming from.
My point hinges on the business of art. My argument also hinges on how the court sees the business of art as opposed to the business of fish and chips.
Does the court see that it is OK for topless minors to work in fish and chip shops? Is it OK for parents of minors to say OK to their kids nudity? Is it OK to profit from child nudity?
Gary, of course it is shock value. Its only that it only has just been noticed by the MSM that brings it to the present. The parents of the kids involved would undoubtedly come out in support of Henson's work. They will undoubtedly be under the microscope.

I'd argue that, over the whole episode, it doesn't come down to just one thing. Watching this debate all over the internet, different people see different things as being what it all boils down to.

It seems that you and Gary are talking about the actual events rather than the moral issues. So a conservative journalist makes a fuss and the rest of the media goes along for the ride (as they do), Hetty Johnston makes a complaint which the police have to act on whether they want to or not, the board classifies whether they ordinarily would or not, and it turns out the whole thing is a bit of media generated hysteria.

As Gary seems to see it, now that they can't call porn the conservatives are pulling out the exploitation card (which was there all along) in which case the David Jones catalogues do come into it. At that rate we're not talking about art any more, but the sexualisation of kids for financial gain.

I imagine that a lot of people who wouldn't let their kids work topless in a fish and chips shop or pose naked for an arty photographer would be proud as punch to have their five year olds posing sexed up underwear for David Jones. Or having make over parties or learning pole dancing.

In regards to Hetty Johnston I would say that she has worked hard for a long time for the rights of children and has done a great job.

You were very vocal about Work choices. Do you think these kids were exploited by their employer?

Agreed Johnston has done a great job, but I think she overstepped herself on this. She's been the champion of seriously abused kids but she seems to have got caught up in someone else's cultural crusade.

I'm not sure what you're getting at with WorkChoices but I'll have a go at answering.

All employer/employee exchanges exploit the employee, otherwise the employer wouldn't make any money. WorkChoices made it easier for employers to get more out of workers for less.

So yes, these kids were exploited by their employer to the extent that the employer stands to gain more financially than the kids. I don't know what the going rate is for kiddy models so I don't know whether these kids were more or less exploited than others.

I'm pretty sure I haven't answered your question properly.

Are you saying that. If an employer engages a minor in their employ for the purpose of taking semi naked pictures of them for the purpose of selling the said pictures for profit is a form of exploitation?

This has nothing to do with Bill Henson anymore.

Les has no idea about the facts re Henson and the payment of models. It's all speculation on his part to show that Henson deserves to be punished. He prefers his speculations to the parents and models saying they are fine with the whole production process. It's tilting at windmills.

The issue is really about the economics of the fashion industry and consumer culture. That's where the sexualisation of kids is actually happening, but little is being said about this.

Why not focus on the real issues in consumer culture instead of attacking contemporary art for being bad.

You are right that I am speculating. That is why I added (but requires further investigation) in my above comments.

Gary you are a photographer. Can you answer this question?
Do you think that Bill Henson could of used kids 16 years of age and older for all these pictures and captured the same effect and level of art worthiness?

Surely that is something to be negotiated between photographer, model and parents. Everyone involved was and is happy with the production process, except the conservatives who had nothing to do with the process, do not understand the way the art institution works, and show little knowledge or understanding of the body of Henson's work.

They just want to punish Henson instead of concentrating on what is happening re the sexualization of kids in the broader consumer/visual culture. That consistent pattern of transference about female sexuality discloses something odd and strange about conservative culture and biopolitics in relation to the liberal centre.

The fundamental question of women’s control over their sexuality and their sexual freedom continues to haunt western conservatives. What he Henson case shows is that instead of accepting sexual liberation of women and criticising its degraded and manipulative versions in pornography, advertising, fashion etc the conservatives go on and on about the sexual liberation of teenage girls. Henson deserves to be punished for being a part of the sexual liberation of teenage girls.

Les, I'm saying that if an employer engages anybody to do anything for profit it's a form of exploitation regardless of how old they are or what they're all wearing at the time.

When it comes to the sexualisation of kids Gary's right, there's no comparison between Henson and the sexualisation of kids generally.

Henson's one person. How many people are involved in the squillion dollar industries that sell sex to kids, starting with Barbie. How many of the five year olds you've seen tottering around the streets in high heels and mini skirts do you reckon have seen Henson's photos? Who gave them those clothes and how did that come to be the appropriate way to dress a kid who would otherwise be barefoot in a sandpit somewhere?

I suspect it's easier to have a go at an artist than think about what we're responsible for as a whole society.

Gary and Lyn,
I think you maybe both attaching things to my argument on my behalf.
My point is simple and I believe it reflects the community.
Try polling the community with this question.
Do you think that Bill Henson should stop taking nude pictures of underage children and selling them?
I think you will get a resounding YES to that one.
I am not trying to prevent Bill Henson from being an artist or throw him in the can. I simply object to using younger children in this way. I also object to the parents giving permission for their children to be used in this manner. It is my right to do so.
Further more I don't think we should go OK this is just fine because it is art. Child welfare must go in and interview all concerned in these types of things. That is what a good and caring society does.

Les I know pretty much what you are saying.

Freedom must be disciplined. Permissive parents need a bit of coercion to straighten their bad ways out. Teenage sexuality must be repressed to ensure the children are protected. Teen culture is a threat to the order of things. The law must act.

As I said this is the voice of conservatism full of angst about a liberal culture.

I think that you might be over reacting to my comments there.
Perhaps you would like to throw me in gaol for this. Speaking out in defence of minors is a very serious offence. How many lashes will you give me? 10 or 20?

My concern is with the conservative discourse and the way that it responds to the child as a sexual object in capitalism. So I take a wider view.

This discourse holds that thinking this way (the child as a sexual object in capitalism) is to have violated the pristine space the child must occupy to guarantee that the crumbling social order holds form. Hence the insistence on the sanctity of the nuclear family, standardized gender relations and virgin girls.

One strand of conservatism is the authority one and the need to ensure constraints on individual freedom. Order requires discipline. Unruly sexualized bodies are threatening to traditional values and moral authority of those in charge of things. Henson had to be disciplined as he represented a challenge to all the values that the family value conservatives stood for.

I was watching the news of progress in Burma where the children were lining the road to be fed by passerbys. It also showed how the villagers were feeding the children first and then themselves if there was anything left. I guess the pristine space you talk of is inbred in man. Like the female spider that feeds herself to her young in an effort to grow and retain the species strong.
Certainly the crumbling social order is evident when you look at poor areas against well to do neighborhoods. Certainly on the surface anyway.

I think I will stick to default protect the youth of the human species till there is evidence that this is wrong.