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Bill Henson # 6 uncensored « Previous | |Next »
May 25, 2008

This appears to be the image in the Bill Henson exhibition at the Roslyn Oxley 9 Gallery in Paddington, Sydney that has created all the fuss amongst Sydney conservatives, and led to their moral outrage. They are suffering deeply from a Big disgust at the sexualised images of naked children. So here we go again on another round of banning and closing down art exhibitions.

Bill Henson, nude, untitled, 2008

Does the image support the conservative interpretation ot being child pornography? For it to be a pornographic image, then it needs to show engaging in sexual activity, or (being) depicted in an indecent sexual manner or context. Does this image show that? Isn't this the question we should be asking?

We do have to start from this image on the internet for this context is the only way that we see can it, since the exhibition has been closed and the image impounded. This image shows the vulnerability and fragility of the model and the beauty of her body, rather than pornography disguised as art. What makes people say that this particular image is child pornography. A mere photograph in an art exhibition does not amount to child pornography.

If you hold that this pictures can be characterised as pornography and not art, then how do you get that interpretation of the image from the image itself? We are debating this image are we not?

Do not these claims and interpretations need to be argued for, as opposed to asserted as absolute truths beyond all debate? Could not this image be interpreted differently in different contexts--exhibition, internet, newspaper, weblog etc? And from whose perspective should the image be interpreted?

A common conservative interpretation is to read the images in terms of the viewpoint of pedophiles:--how would they view the images? This interpretation holds that pedophiles would find them sexually arousing (bad) and it is implied, this would cause them to commit acts of child abuse (crime.) Therefore, the images are porn. Moreover, Henson should be morally responsible for the consequences of his actions, whatever his intention.

This interpretation is countered by those who say is that Henson' work is art not porn. As Zahava Elenberg, who was 12 when she posed for a series of dark and evocative photographs taken by Henson 20 years ago, said in the SMH I''m a parent myself and I abhor child pornography, but this is not child pornography. It's artistic and creative.' A similar story is told by other ex models.

So we have different perspective from which to interpret the image. Where to now? Kevin Donnelly in The Sunday Age addresses this defence of Bill Henson's photographs as art by saying that:

Fortunately, not all have swallowed the nihilistic cant of the postmodern. Art can be defined as having certain characteristics and qualities. Art, to use Keats' words, tells us that: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty".Art deals with human emotions, predicaments and the world around us in a profoundly moral, spiritual and aesthetic way. Art is uplifting and helps us, to use the words of another English poet, William Blake, "To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower".

Well, that's one definition of art amongst many competing others. Donnelly offers no argument as to why we should accept his pre-modernist definition of art as distinct from an understanding of art as critique. Shouldn't this be argued?

The issue is not really about art though for moral conservatives. Donnelly is quite explicit on this. He says that it is:

... also critical, at some stage, to stand firm. Over the years we have had several cases involving censorship and art, the most famous involving D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover and the later controversy surrounding the satirical magazine OZ. Based on the idea of a slippery slope, each decision to uphold the rights of the artist has led to a downward spiral in terms of what is considered acceptable.The result? A world surrounded by crass, vulgar and obscene images — maybe it is time to say enough is enough.

So Henson's work has been chosen by moral and cultural conservatives to make a stand against postmodernism, nihilism, pornography, consumerism etc etc. Note yet again that there no argument for his {Donnelly's} slippery slope claim that it is high art that has lead to a world surrounded by crass, vulgar and obscene images rather than the capitalist market.

Update: 26 May
Paul Sheehan in the Sydney Morning Herald says: about artists pusshing the boundaries:

if you confront people long enough, don't whine when you yourself are confronted. If you mine the terrain of adolescent sensual awakening for commercial gain, if you spend years living on the artistic edge, while gaining public attention and financial reward, don't complain when your actions begin to carry the taint of exploitative voyeurism.

Sheehan says that the electric jolt of public unease that Henson and the art institution have received in recent days is justified.
Why? Because pederasts and child sexploiters have had a dream run in our society. A subculture of pedophilia among gays, an epidemic of child sexual abuse in the Aboriginal community, and a multimillion porn industry on the internet have all been protected variously by privacy laws, artistic licence, freedom of expression, and Aboriginal rights. What these rights have done is mask, exacerbate or even rationalise a significant and growing problem.

Sheehan says that the wider issue is the depiction and exploitation of very young women in our society for commercial gain, and adds that the Bill Henson exhibition may be the wrong time and wrong place for this particular battle, but it is the right time and right place to reinvigorate this particular war.

Why not do something about the porn sites instead of banning an art exhibition?

Update 2
The SMH reports that criminal investigations into Bill Henson have widened to include previous work by the controversial photographer, after police received complaints about several Henson works on display at a regional gallery. Police advised the Albury Regional Art Gallery to take down several photographs by the artist dating back to 1985, after they received a complaint from the public about "inappropriate" images, which they are investigating.The Herald also says that a number of older Henson works were seized from the Roslyn Oxley9 gallery storerooms when police raided it last week.

How far are they going to go? Raid the National Gallery, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, the NSW Art Gallery?

It still seems as if th debate is being conduction in the old terms of a clash between the conservative philistines and the cultured libertarians. There is more at stake than this--- more feeling, more legitimate grievance and more fear-- as the social and cultural context has changed due to the way that the sexual abuse of children has been disclosed to have been so rampant. So we need to step away from art per se to look at the wider cultural context and what is called moral panic, and then try and situate the debate in that cultural context.


| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:30 AM | | Comments (69)


According to Kevin Donnelly, "...most viewers, I think, would agree that images of naked, under-age girls, silhouetted and standing provocatively are unacceptable."
Obviously young Kev thinks this girl is standing "provocatively". He needs help.

the image is about vulnerability than sexual provocation.

Clive Hamilton, who agrees the above, says:

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 s-xual imagery, but to the trend towards presenting children in advertising and media in increasingly eroticised ways.

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.....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.

Henson is not exploiting the models like the advertisers. Nor can he be held responsible if the images, like the one, above circulate the internet and end up on the computers of paedophiles.

You state:

"Nor can he be held responsible if the images, like the one, above circulate the internet and end up on the computers of paedophiles."

I would be interested, Gary, where you see the responsibility of the artist ending.

The artist is aware of the wider context of his work - obviously. He is directly addressing the issue we are discussing now: the perception of child sexuality in the public domain.

This indicates a greater intent than that of creating an image.

Is it not a cop-out on your part - at worst an incredible act of arrogance, to absolve the artist of all responsibility for the response of his audience to his work?

If this work is not a critique of the sexualisation of youth in modern culture, it is just a pretty picture which contributes nothing and transgresses child pornography laws.

If this work seeks to make a statement about the exploitation of pre-adolescent sexuality (a reading I choose to ascribe to it), the artist must be fully aware that pedophiles will become members of his audience, and must accept at least a measure of culpability.

Otherwise his work stands for nothing.

Clive Hamilton argues a similar case as noted above. I don't accept that the argument justifies closing down the exhibition--banning the images from being shown in an exhibition in a recognized art gallery. Do you?

I do accept:

1. That art is part of a wider world of images and related to them.
2. the artist has responsibility for his work and its relation to the wider world. is connected to ethics as well as politics.
4. traditionally modernist art stood as a critique of both forms of earlier art (realism and naturalism) and as a critique of the values and practices of the broader society, especially those of the capitalist market.

So I interpret the image of the post as representing a young girl as a subject and sexual being expressing her vulnerability, fragility, sexuality and beauty. This is different from the way that the advertisers have treated them as sex objects. Not is that image a pornographic image in the sense of what you find on pornographic internet sites. Therefore Benson is being responsible.

Who has circulated the images on the internet outside the narrow world of the art institution where they have not created a fuss, when they were shown in exhibitions in our major galleries? The mass media of course. News Corp. Why isn't the finger being pointed at them in terms of ethical responsibility?

The law of course is a different matter. I'm not sure what the legislation says there. Nor am I sure what particular Act is being used. All I know is that the NSW police have seized 20 of 41 photographs from Bill Henson's Sydney exhibition of adolescent girls with the intention of launching criminal proceedings under the Child Protection Act.Police say charges will be laid under both the NSW and Commonwealth Crimes acts for publishing an indecent article.

The post was less about the law and more about interpreting the image. Is it indecent? If so what makes it indecent? The nudity? Is it the nudity that justifies the "sexualizing the kids" interpretation?

Catherine Lumby has an article in The Sunday Age on the issue you raise:

the artist must be fully aware that pedophiles will become members of his audience, and must accept at least a measure of culpability. Otherwise his work stands for nothing.

Lumby argues against banning as a way of dealing with thi issue. She then says:
If we go down the path of saying that all images of children and young adolescents can only portray them as ideal Brady Bunch kids, then we will spend our lives, as a society, looking for images of corrupted children and teenagers everywhere. Worse, we risk looking at every image through the lens of the pedophile.

Protecting children and young teenagers involves respecting their difference from adults. It means allowing them a space in which to explore their emerging selves free of the demand to always be seen in relation to adulthood — as either pure or entirely knowing. It means involving them in the debate rather than always speaking on their behalf.

KD said "Is it not a cop-out on your part - at worst an incredible act of arrogance, to absolve the artist of all responsibility for the response of his audience to his work?"

I cannot accept this. In the global, digital age we live in, you would have to presume that everyone has the potential of being your audience.
To use your argument, the artist would have to make sure that they did not provoke or upset anyone, from the criminally insane to the holiest of holy, all of whom could easily be their audience. It also presumes that any person can actually pre-empt what another person's response will be. This is a ridiculous premise.
Each individual is responsible for their own response to any stimulus.

As for Henson encouraging pedophiles? Are all parents who let their children run naked on public beaches also guilty of encouraging pedophiles? Are these parents also responsible for "the response of (the) audience".
If not, why not?

Just for your readers - an interesting interview with Henson has been made available which I have also posted.

The Media's hypocrisy over this matter, reeks to high heaven. If any group is guilty of sexualizing children it is the Media. The fact that they generate billions of dollars in revenue out of selling magazines to young girls; the fact that they conspire with advertising agencies and the fashion industry to exploit exploit the young and the vulnerable, is as self evident as it is sickeningly perverse.

By comparison, Hensons' work concerns the body as metaphor. His images are as mysteriously powerful as they are disturbingly beautiful.

But none of this will matter, unless people of good concience stand up to the witch~hunting media.

It was Heinrich Heine who said...

"Where they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people."

The same can be said for banning (and burning) of images.

How sad sad...

Aqua Fyre

Gary, we agree on many things. Certainly I share your interpretation of the image and abhor the duplicity of the media. But to affect shock and surprise at this duplicity is to be disingenuous - it is the core critique of the image!

I will admit to feeling conflicted about the issue of censorship (a very unpopular position on this blog!). I am happy to admit that the advent of children of my own has altered my perception of this issue. Several years ago I would have been rabidly pro-Henson. Now, rather than thinking about the artist, my sympathies lie entirely with the subject.

The thought of my children being in a similar position - at the centre of an hysterical national debate about child pornography - chills my blood. And rightly or wrongly the artist is at the nexus of this.

In a nutshell, ambiguity about child sexuality is ripe for misinterpretation. My view is that it is a dangerous position to leave oneself in.

So, to lay all my prejudices on the line - Politics, History, Art, Religion - have at it! Piss Christ was a larf!

Race and Children - "think once, think twice; think don't drive on the pavement".

What are yours?

Michael - I did not suggest that any artist should moderate their behavior in any way - my issue was with Garys assertion that the artist cannot be held responsible for the way in which his/her work is used/viewed.

This is the ridiculous premise - that any artist (and I am not simply referring to Bill Henson now) can produce a work (as a critique, comment or criticism) and disown the subsequent ramifications of how that work is viewed.

Every day, everyones actions and words in the public and private domain are open to interpretation, misinterpretation and distortion. We must be sensitive to this and hit the targets we are aiming at, not shoot ourselves in the foot.

Artists (despite the almost historical cries in the media of "he's an artist - how could he be wrong!") are no exceptions.

And who is suggesting that "Henson [is] encouraging pedophiles"? I don't believe anyone in this forum is arguing that, and if you are implying that I did you have completely missed the point of my post.

And thanks, Pam, for your post. I did see that article. I got more out of your quotes than the article itself. 'Fraid to say she didn't sell me on it.

Oh, yeah, and Gary? "Who has circulated the images on the internet... The mass media of course. News Corp. Why isn't the finger being pointed at them in terms of ethical responsibility?"

Given the image at the top of this page, I assume you either A)don't consider yourself part of the mass media, or B)are circulating the images in a "good" way (after all, it is an "artistic" website so it wouldn't be propagating the hypocrisy...).

Funnily enough, I only found my way here through a Google Images search for "bill henson child pornography pictures". There you were - No. 2 in the list.

But enjoying myself none-the-less. Hope you don't mind having a Neanderthal hanging around.

Damn - pressed the wrong button!

As I was saying, Michael, I apologise. I realised that I am advocating self-censorship - but as we all do it every day it's not such a big ask.

The bottom line with this one from my point of view?

The potential harm of misinterpreting this work of art is greater than the potential contribution it makes as a critique of the portrayal of child sexuality in the mass media.

I think the unsophisticated response of the wider community bears this view out.


KD wrote:
"Michael - I did not suggest that any artist should moderate their behavior in any way - my issue was with Garys assertion that the artist cannot be held responsible for the way in which his/her work is used/viewed.

This is the ridiculous premise - that any artist (and I am not simply referring to Bill Henson now) can produce a work (as a critique, comment or criticism) and disown the subsequent ramifications of how that work is viewed. "

Actually, that is exactly what I'm saying. An artist (or anyone) can easily disown the subsequent ramifications of how their work is viewed because they are not responsible for them.
What if someone views the above Bill Henson image and decides to start up an orphanage for homeless children? Is Bill responsible for that? Should he be aware of that ramification before making the image?
It is obvious from your comment that you are only concerned with the potential for negative ramifications by creating the possibility that a pedophile would find this image sexually appealing.
"Garys assertion that the artist cannot be held responsible for the way in which his/her work is used/viewed" is entirely correct.
The way a work is viewed is entirely the responsibility of the viewer. Bill Henson is not forcing you to view his work in any particular way. That is the viewer's choice. It is quite possible that a pedophile might find this image repulsive. I am sure that for every viewer, there are individual responses to any image. The maker of an image cannot be aware of all those responses.

The image is nought but light.

The Law protects the vulnerable.

The Law is blind.

Enter the fool Benson, worldwise yet stumbling blindly at the precipice. Yet prepare a feast for his return. Oh, the gnashing. Have the maidens temper the goats!

Fact: the image shown on this site appears to be an image of a 12-13 year old girl [stop]

If debate "about" the work is necessary, let's do the artist the credit of recognising our commentary as commentary "about" work and not the work itself - which (apologies to the Critic and Censor) is empty of meaning, empty of value.

Any movement toward critique must necessarily involve a movement toward the ethical. In Public-ation motion toward the ethical is resolved through deferral to the legal. The legal is formed by the political. The political informed by the cultural, cultural by the historical.

So let the Law have it's way for the People (hurrah, hurrah), while we learned few scribe impenetrable circuities on the ethics of public-ation.

As an aside, nudity has in some traditions been interpreted as symbolic of "freedom from discursive proliferation". Analysed in this way I find the image breathtakingly...silent.

(contrapunctus: a characteristic certainly not exhibited by many 12-13 year olds)

you write:

Several years ago I would have been rabidly pro-Henson. Now, rather than thinking about the artist, my sympathies lie entirely with the subject. The thought of my children being in a similar position - at the centre of an hysterical national debate about child pornography - chills my blood. And rightly or wrongly the artist is at the nexus of this.

It is not your children that are the subject of the photos. The models and their parents are saying they were fine about this and comfortaable with what happened.

Why should we dismiss what they say as irrelevant?

junk for code is a weblog and not a part of the News Corp empire. There is a difference.

You write:

Given the image at the top of this page, I assume you either:
A)don't consider yourself part of the mass media, or
B)are circulating the images in a "good" way (after all, it is an "artistic" website so it wouldn't be propagating the hypocrisy...).
Funnily enough, I only found my way here through a Google Images search for "bill henson child pornography pictures". There you were - No. 2 in the list.

What you find on junk for code is a contestation of the conservative assumption that the photo in itself is child pornography. It asks how do you get that interpretation from the image shown.

The paragraph under the image says:

For it to be pornographic image then it needs to show engaging in sexual activity, or (being) depicted in an indecent sexual manner or context. Does this image show that? Isn't this the question we should be asking?

The post is saying that you need to argue why the image is interpreted as child pornography, not assume that it is.

you do not appear to be interpreting the image of the post. Isn't that what the debate is about? The iamge is more than light. It embodies a network of meanings and we are arguing over those cultural meanings.

This is absolutely ridiculous. It's the people who look at these photographs and think porn that are the pedophiles, not the artist or the appreciator. There is a strong message here, and less subtle than we might have thought.
Aside from that obvious conclusion I still would not recommend displaying any of this odd man's art in a middle school.

Have just stumbled on this, which may be of interest

If an 'elite' person has a photo of a naked child it is art, if he is a 'yobbo' then it's porn.
If an aborigine molests his children they build him a new house while a non-aborigine goes to gaol.
If rich people take drugs they are depressed or something, but if poor people take drugs they are prosecuted.
Too many double standards.

there is an interesting post on Audrey and the Bad Apple, that you may find useful for your concerns. The writer is a columnist for the Sunday Mail in Adelaide. She says that:

we do have to accept that there are some limits which it shouldn't okay to cross over. As a friend said to me recently, there's a difference between aspiring to a liberal society and aspiring to a libertine one.

True. But does Henson stand for, or even represent, a libertine culture? She goes on to paraphrase Greg Pike's comments from a radio show:
Art must not be cloistered in the sense that it thinks it can say anything and the community should be expected to swallow it. I think the artist's job is to critique the community - but they have to be open to the community critiquing the arts. In some respects, I don't think the artistic community like this idea. But it has to cut both ways.

Agreed. But the criticism of an art work does need to be based on the image as well as the context of the work or people's feelings.

I thought the earlier post on the SA blog a bit precious as it went on about the wanky art crowd, rather than the images. On this she said:

In one shot, the upper body of a girl is featured while she kneels on all fours, her head downcast. I certainly did not feel they were "honest" or "beautiful".
Artistic might be capturing images of children running around laughing on a beach, caught between the devil-may-care nakedness inherent to children and the fig-leaf necessity of adulthood.
Placing them in a darkened room and fashioning them into poses not natural to a child does nothing but strip them of their power and turn them into subjects – and to me, that is the great difference between nudes and pornography.
Censorship be damned. The police were right to shut down Henson's "exhibition". That none of his fawning audience could see why is proof the art world in general needs to get a new tailor.

Does the image shown in this post fashion teen girl into poses not natural to a child and does nothing but strip them of their power and turn them into subjects (I assume objects is meant?

I cannot see it. Henson's images are disturbing because he captures these feelings and emotions of emptiness, uncertainty and foreboding.

you are right. The Storm in an A-Cup post on the Homepage Daily makes some good points. It says:

But why pick on an art, when trainer bras and sexy lingerie for 6 years olds are hot items, when 5 years olds go to beauty parlours and have makeovers to celebrate their birthdays, when the advertising industrys' use of very young "models" is morally questionable at so many levels, when ads for jeans are shot like pornography, when ads for lipstick are shot like pornography, when ads for cars are shot like pornography, and when 75% of the internet is pornography.

Why pick on Henson, one of the artists in the high school art syllabus for heavens sake, when our whole popular culture, what's on our telly, in our videos, our movies ,our mags and our newspapers, is shot through with exploitative and violent sexuality. Why worry about Henson when that celebration of sadism, The Passion of the Christ, was a world wide hit.

Why pick on an art photographer, when Paris Hilton's home-movie porno shot her to stardom, and matrons devouring their womens magazines at the hairdresser are tut-tutting about Britneys split-pink pole dance, when entertainers and sportstars of the ilk of the Beckhams have replaced saints as objects of veneration, and our mass media regurgitates all this vomit as though it matters. And we all gossip about it as though it matters, and meanwhile the ice caps are melting.

This broadens the debate away from art and porn to the wider culture.

I did interpret the image, but not in the same light as the other interpretations.

The point was that our discussions are "about" the work. In most instances a great distance removed from the work itself. This is no longer interpretation of the work but about culture. Once we open the debate on culture then out discussion becomes laden and subject. Let's not heap our bags on the workers (artist and model).

Once again: I see the an image of a young girl standing naked. I interpret her nakedness as freedom from discursive proliferation.

If she stood before me as a person there would be ground for an exchange. If her image stands before me why does she become an object and the ground shift to cultural critique. Must I avert my gaze by crowding my mind with false (conventional) reason?

Here is a girl, not an object. Her aspect offers up silence to me, why should I shout at/about her.

"Every day, everyones actions and words in the public and private domain are open to interpretation, misinterpretation and distortion. We must be sensitive to this and hit the targets we are aiming at, not shoot ourselves in the foot."

"I realised that I am advocating self-censorship - but as we all do it every day it's not such a big ask."

There is something to that in the greater scheme of things, along the lines of Civilisation and its Discontents. It's much easier for us to target a single individual or event than a corporate entities doing similar things with kids, and much younger ones, over a period of time. So Henson cops it but KMart carry on as usual.

Speaking of targets though, the tabloids were not Henson's intended audience, nor were perverts or the easily offended. It's much harder to target a specific audience in this day and age. For years Henson's work has been viewed by his intended audience. It hangs in galleries around the world. The ramifications of how his work has been viewed in the past are very different from the ramifications now, but to what extent can Henson be held personally responsible for that, given the media's role here?

The ramifications and the level of responsibility changed in less than 24 hours.

Didn't read all of the comments but the initial piece may be interesting to you.

The photographs of police entering the art gallery prior to the Henson exhibition opening chillingly reminded me of the police entering the Robert Mapplethorpe retrospective at the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati, USA in 1990. This raid, indictment, prosecution and trail shocked the art world and engendered my founding of the Campaign Against Censorship in the Arts.

Mapplethorpe was exploring sexual identity, sexual subculture, the eroticised male nude, S & M, and, by his own admission, pornography. He himself had stated that he wanted to try to make pornography to try to understand its power. Although differently framed in the trial, there should have been no uncertainty that some of the Mapplethorpe images were pornographic; but this does not exclude them from being art. The history of art is filled with explorations of pornography. Explicit sexual representation, in literature and visual art, is an entirely normal and appropriate area of interest and activity for adult human beings. Artist, like scientists, enjoy a right of research which sometimes takes them beyond the general understanding and appreciation of the general populace. Normally, we accept this.

In the Mapplethorpe instance, the CAC and its director were acquitted on obscenity charges. The work was recognized as art, and therefore protected. From what I can tell, nothing in Henson's work puts it anywhere near the level of transgression in the Mapplethorpe work. Sexual organs are not displayed, sexual activity is not engaged in or depicted, sexual practices are not explored.

At most, Henson accepts that children have a sexual identity and explores the cultural sexualization of children. Children often aspire to a sexuality, and readily act out a more adult identity. It's happening all around us. Should not this important area of inquiry be available to artists?

Perhaps the problem the medium, photography, and the confusion and difficulty it still proposes for viewers. Police are accustomed to using photographs as evidence, often evidence of a crime having been committed. I don't know for what Prime Ministers' are accustomed to using photographs, what they think when they view them.

But if you accept the subject as valid for artistic inquiry (think of Munch's "Adolescence") you have to permit your contemporary artists to explore it. Even if you insist on the Keatsian definition that "Beauty is Truth, and Truth Beauty" you ought to concede that the image of the unclothed pubescent girl which seems to have provoked the controversy contains some truth; indeed, it is its truth which so troubles everyone.

I have no doubt that, removed from their context in an art gallery, some of the Henson images have the potential to be used as stimulation by pedophiles; just as I am sure advertisement photographs of children in bathing costumes or underwear are so used. Porn, to some extent, is in the eye of the beholder. I don't think we should let the pedophiles dictate the terms. In Cincinnati, I would suggest that there are many communities of different awareness and understanding, with different rules, thresholds and limits, just as there are different communities of traffic. Imposing the restrictions appropriate to a residential cul-de-sac upon a major highway is as problematic as permitting 70 mph speeds in a quiet neighborhood.

Most troubling to me is learning of police investigating the photographs not even exhibited but stored in the gallery, and informing other institutions they should consider removing older Henson images from their exhibitions. This smacks of a witch hunt, an officially sanctioned mania. Speaking from a city (Cincinnati) which has too often accepted a repressive, anti-art mentality, I urge loud, clear condemnation of government actions and uninformed statements by government representatives.

Henson, caught in the crossfire, seems the wrong target. I think he's playing with fire and knows it, so his art is not innocent even if the children are. He has a right to explore the social edge, but should ask himself deeply and profoundly why he's doing it, and the degree to which his images will meet the wrong eyes. As for chasing child-abusers, I suggest society's resources are devoted to the evil perpetrators of child sex crimes, and not marginal figures like Henson.

Paul, London, UK

Further to my previous comment, if you cover up all but the head and shoulders in the image it has the same artistic effect, in displaying the girl's inner emotions, and arousing ours. If you disagree, then Henson is clearly and I suggest consciously, making a statment about sexuality and should be judged by that. If you agree, the same is true!

That material is illegal in the United Kingdom, it really is, Bill Henson would be arrested if he did it in London.

You can check, but topless photos of 16 & 17 year old girls are also illegal under the sexual offences act 2003,

the poor old cops down under have their colleagues in the VGT asking them to dampen down internet transactions of what CEOP (UK) would view as child pornography.

So a hundred Australian actresses is not going to change that de jure perspective, it is silly to think that way.

So wave that photo about in Oxford Street, as live art, and you'd be a live pedophile on his way to the cop shop. So if it is art, it is not British art, it is CP there.

If its ok for Bill Henson to take underage nude photos, than lets make it legal for everyone to take underage nude photos.
What a load of rubbish, it makes me sick to see these art people think you have one set of rules and everyone has another set of rules.

your comments assume that Henson's work is porn. That is what is currently being debated, and you have provided no arguments to support your assumption. You need to because the mother of the model in question strongly supports the work of Henson:

There is a police investigation under way and we cannot say anything other than (that) we are very strong supporters of Bill Henson and his work.

They do not see the work as bad (indecent/porn) as you do. So there is a conflict of opinions. Hence the ongoing debate.

It is being investigated as child pornography by a growing number of agencies around the world, the australians are being asked to act.

Websites reported for using Henson images
Email Printer friendly version Normal font Large font Yuko Narushima
May 30, 2008

In Britain it is obviously child pornography, how stupid are people not to know that?

The Aussie media are reporting that the govt. is being pressurized to act, by other VGT partners.

NSPCC - Media Centre - Media Briefings - Sexual Offences Act 2003The NSPCC believes that if sexual abuse of children is to be addressed .... It is now illegal for papers and magazines to show pictures of topless girls ... - 26k - Cached - Similar pages - Note this

It is child pornography, the law in the UK was because of people like Bill Henson, it was intended to catch people like him.

Australia is not Britain. No charges have been laid in Australia yet, and so the courts have yet to hear the case re indecency. There is still a debate going on in this country about Henson's photographs.

There is a censored photo of the girl with her bottom half exposed too. I don't know how revealing that is but this photo is not child pornography.

However there are concerns with these photos and that is with the consent of the girl in the photos. She is not old enough to consent of her own and I doubt if she has the maturity to make an informed decision. It must be that a parent consented to the release of the photos.

This whole row is also getting the girl a lot more attention than would have been ever anticipated. I wonder if she would be happy that her classmates etc can see her nude on the net.

This type of situation really doesn't have a right answer. You can argue it either way.

The NSW Police are now waiting for the DPP's advice on whether there are sufficient grounds to lay charges of possessing and creating child pornography and of displaying an indecent image, the police statement said. It did not specify whether the charges would apply to Henson or to galleries displaying his work.

The police in a variety of countries are asking the Australians to do something, Canada, UK, Ireland.

"There is still a debate going on in this country about Henson's photographs."

Fine, but take London off his CV, the verdict is in there already, the Limey police have made up their minds, they've asked the authorities in Australia to act.

So, he is a 'restricted' whatever type of artist he is, I can also bet you a Lincoln to a pre-owned Datsun that Henson isn't going to get a laptop through US customs.

I feel the idea that his rep is gonna get the Brits, Irish, Canadians, to forget, what he is doing, is not a happening idea, it just isn't. one of those countries had Henson in mind for a new law!

That's pretty famous and it isn't the expedited VIP lounge at Heathrow.

I don't think Bill Henson is a real artist a real artist would have found a model who was 16 but looked 13 or 12 sorry Bill you blew it mate if you did the crime you should do the time.


I guess the whole argument about whether Bill Henson's photos are child porn will now be addressed in the courts.
Taking nude photos of underage people is always going to be fraught with danger. I was living in the UK when a mother was "outed" because she had taken a photo of one of her children in the bath. In the context, this was clearly not child porn; however it easily could be if she then passed this photo onto others. The question in this case would be, when would this photo cease to be just a family photo and become child porn. Is it acceptable for grandparents to see this photo? uncles and aunts? cousins? neighbours?
what if a member of the family subsequently abuses this child, does that change the context of the photo?

Pam, I see where you're coming from with the mother of the child being supportive of Bill Henson; however, what if we had a mother who was supportive of a photographer who really was using the photos as porn?
As a society/community you would hope that we could be objective and say this was unacceptable regardless of the support of the mother.
The recent news story of that Mormon community in the USA where underage girls were regularly being married off and having children with adult members of the community is a case in point. Within their community, they found this level of sexualising relationships with children as acceptable (and supported by their mothers); within the wider community, it was seen as unacceptable (and rightly so, in my opinion).
There are many depictions of chidhood sexuality in photography and film where the creator of these images has used adults who look young. There is obviously nothing wrong with this.
The fact that Henson has used underage models is very problematic. The fact that he doesn't view it as porn or the mother doesn't view it as porn or art critics don't view it as porn is really not a valid defense.

See the cartoon by Michael Leunig on my blog. I think he may have taken a leaf out of my Henson posting -:) (or we are thinking along the same lines...)

I don't think it should be a police matter in this case.

Most legal experts in Australia agree that he cannot be successfully persecuted under existing laws.

The best punishment for Henson would be oblivion, not martyrdom...

He is just a clever exploiter of underage sex (like a lot of commercial "artists", except he has older male faces on some photos that seem to be indicative of pedophilia subtext).

Henson's pictures have nothing to do with prostitutes or sex acts; if they are offensive it is solely because the naked people who posed for them were under-age at the time. Presumably their nudity is taken by the police to imply "a sexual context", but there is no evidence that this is so. So it is unclear what "crime" Henson has committed.

What is your argument? You haven't given one for your claim that Henson has committed a crime.

Germain Greer makes some good points in The Age. She says:

Any man who calls Henson's pictures "revolting" protests too much. Our culture sexualises girls from infancy; they learn to flirt and be coy; the clothing designed for them is flashy, trashy and tarty. Every little girl is Daddy's little girl and is not allowed to grow up. Kate Moss, the world's most successful model, is a 34-year-old with the body of a 14-year-old. Signs of sexual maturity, spreading hips, darkened nipples, body hair, are considered unsightly.
Mothers may look at Henson's pictures and howl with fear; the man who rejects them with exaggerated horror is denying his own complicity. If our culture were not pedophilic, if our children were not already grossly sexualised, we would not be so dismayed by Henson's unerotic images, or so frantic to persecute and punish him for making them.

She says that Even mothers who photograph their children's bodies are scapegoated. Sally Mann was accused of incestuous feelings for her prepubescent children simply because she photographed them without their clothes.

The police 'visits' are not over, I was speaking to the police today.

I can also tell you there are 'travel' issues which are being attended to.

Am I alone in thinking that, at least here in the USA, where there are similar outcries, the societal acceptance of wildly violent images and language under the guise of 'sport' like the cage fighting and 'unlimited martial arts' shows shown here, is far more 'obscene' and yet, in a wonderful paradox, these shows are most popular with the very stratum of society which expresses outrage at any depiction of a child in a picture, no matter the context? I wss forced to go to church as a child, where I was surrounded by images of some guy nailed to a cross, and little naked cherubs with tiny little penises, floating from the ceiling above... now THAT'S disturbing!

We live in a society that has gone so far overboard with the concept of sexuality, that we don't even allow a one year old girl to run about without a top on. Babies'(girls) summer outfits usually include a bra-type top. It's no wonder people are shocked at these pictures. They have probably never seen a young girl ...of any age...without a top on.

The fashion industry has done far more to harm young girls than we can ever imagine. Just go to any mall and see what parents allow their prepubescent girls to wear in public. Young girls want to fit in with their peers so badly and marketers exploit that fact to the hilt. Parents have to learn to say 'No' and stick with their decision to forbid such clothing.

Yes, Henson's models should definitely receive a much higher compensation figure...if they don't, then I agree, he's also exploiting them for monetary gain which tells me he's not just interested in art for art's sake.

Payment is not synonymous with exploitation. It it were, then it could be argued that people working in "industries" which process complaints, are "exploiting" the victims who approach them for help. I happen to think that the "victim industry" is thriving far more than is the arts industry.

[quote]I happen to think that the "victim industry" is thriving far more than is the arts industry.[/quote]-Phil C.

The 'victim industry' arises from a multitude of societal problems and, of course, is exacerbated by hungry lawyers. Someone is always exploiting someone.

The arts industry is based on creative endeavors which are entirely dependant on their [b]subjective [/b]appeal to the general public and private/public museums and other institutions. [b]Cost[/b] and [b]limited availability [/b]of products can be very prohibitive. How do you begin to define 'thriving' as it pertains to the arts..number of major purchases, expansion of educational opportunities, number of new museums being funded? In this case, due to the public outcry against nude child art subjects, the industry itself could be subject to in-depth scrutiny and contract rather than thrive.

The models would never be considered 'victims' by an artist because he is more concerned with his artistic creation than the future harm to her/his psyche. A small fee for her/his services is deemed to absolve the artist of any further responsibility.

Payment can definitely be synonymous with exploitation. Paying $600.00 for a $100.00 'Payday Loan', paying 30% for an injury lawsuit, paying $20,000.00 for an illegal entry to the U.S.,paying a stipend to a nude child model in order to make $300,000+ are all on the same level....IMHO. The art industry is also a 'business' and must be based on the usage of fair business practices and nude child models are definitely not the norm in any other business. I wonder how many other readers are curious about how much she got paid.

[quote]I wss forced to go to church as a child, where I was surrounded by images of some guy nailed to a cross, and little naked cherubs with tiny little penises, floating from the ceiling above... now THAT'S disturbing![/quote]

Posted by: Douglas Allchin | June 7, 2008 3:33 AM must have a difficult time as a lover of art then...after all, Michelangelo's Adam was a trifle naked with a tiny p***s...and there definitely were more than a handful of nude cherubs floating about on that ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

You have just defined 'art' by the physical attributes of the 'models' (cherubs)...tiny pe****s... so why do you not think patrons will now focus on the physical attributes of the nude young female (budding breasts )rather than the original concept of the painting? Obviously, one doesn't have to be a pedophile to notice such 'small' details, does one?

When one's attention is drawn more to the sexual aspects of a model than the underlying concept behind the nudity, it becomes pornographic, IMHO.

Now that DPP says there is nothing criminal is there any link to the uncensored photos to show what all the fuss was in the first place?

That's it? That's the image creating all the fuss? If you can actually see this as perverse then you are a pervert.

it is the image above in the post.

yes that is it. A beat up by the conservatives for political reasons.

You said "Why not do something about the porn sites instead of banning an art exhibition?"

When they are based in Australia we do. I don't see your point.

The real concern should be the porn sites not Bill Henson's photographs. The porn sites have been rarely mentioned in the public debate. Nor has there been a public debate about the effectiveness of the porn filters in protecting children from porn images.

I find that odd given all the emphasis on porn, protecting innocent children and the sexualization of children. Don't you? What was in the foreground was the largely manufactured moral outrage over Henson's photographs and the absolute certainty that the images were porn and that Henson has committed a crime.

Greg Barnes observes on Crikey that the Henson events reveal the way that the police forces are becoming highly political animals:

The police have become too conscious of the media, the political climate, and the pestering of lobby groups.Bill Henson’s photography has been doing the rounds of art galleries, private collections, the internet and other fora for years now without a hint of police involvement. Then along comes a well organised lobbyist in the form of Hetty Johnston and her child abuse campaigners and what do the NSW Police do? They jump to attention, waste taxpayers' money – the total cost of the various raids around Australia by police over the past fortnight seizing Henson images would run into the millions of dollars -- and make fools of themselves by removing Henson pictures from a Sydney gallery.

He adds that no doubt one of the motivating factors behind the decision of the NSW Police to go after Henson and the Ros Oxley Gallery was the fear that if they did not, the media savvy Johnston and her sympathisers among radio shock jocks, trashy TV current affairs shows and the tabloids would accuse the coppers of being soft on child abuse.

What we also see is the AFP's political posturing and desire for spin and publicity.

Quote: "The art industry is also a 'business' and must be based on the usage of fair business practices and nude child models are definitely not the norm in any other business." posted by kfccanada.

The photo above, at the head of all these posts, which is what we are all on about, is not of a "nude child model". It has undergone some further treatment to become what you now see. What do you see? If you're Kevin Rudd, you see "revolting". If you're me, you see "vulnerability". If you're kfccanada.......?

The proper outcome was reached in the Henson case. Hetty Johnston, who made the first complaint against Henson, claimed in 2003 "To produce the supply, more children will need to be further raped and tortured. Watching Internet child pornography can not occur in isolation of the child victims." But Henson's girl didn't want charges brought against him as she's no "victim", and was not raped or tortured. Nudity shouldn't be lumped in with rape by law. Seeing nudity doesn't by itself incite sexual activity in most paedophiles.

Here's one result of the UK law Tazia supports - the trial R v Westgarth-Smith involved nude pictures of a young girl named Eva Ionesco who posed for her mother as a child. Some books with her nudity have been sold in the UK even in the past ten years. Westgarth-Smith received some artistic nude pictures of her by email but he was convicted. Not only does the UK law lead to inconsistent results in the courtroom, but Eva, now well into adulthood, remains proud of her portraits, and consented to their being published again in 2004. So there is no "victim" there either, and she would be insulted that you find her body "indecent".

So-called "child advocates" cause harm by shaming youth over their pictures. They do this even with self-made pictures and even when they posed for caring adults willingly and for good pay. Keep the focus on protecting children from being involved with images of sexual assault, and stop the prosecution of simple nudity. This inquisition has to end. If more blogs displayed non-abusive nudes of young people, like this one did, maybe people would see with their own eyes that they aren't so bad.

that girl looks sexy

I find this offensive if only in my thinking of this girls mother.. I know being a mum that I would never have my child posing like this for anyone..not even Michelangelo.
Curious to know as well..what's up with the make-up on this child and the lighting? It really is creepy.

"Bill Henson’s photography has been doing the rounds of art galleries, private collections, the internet and other fora for years now without a hint of police involvement."

Completely untrue, he was being watched by the police in other countries, so stop acting like a Chinese Mandarin as if Oz, was the centre of the universe.

It isn't, thank goodness. Bill Henson was of interest to the police, I mean look at his photos, that's a crime in a variety of places.

Does it really surprise you that the cops in other countries would raise their eyebrows?

It will never be the same for him again, it is only a matter of time.

Bill Henson was already pegged for his child porn chic before he ventured into copying child erotica from the 1880's.

Gregory Carlin

well you are not everybody. Clearly others think differently to you about modelling for Henson.

in case you didn't know the the picture of the naked girl that sparked the Bill Henson fuss was found by the Classification Board in Australia to create a viewing impact that is mild and justified by context … and is not sexualised to any degree.

The police in Australia decided not to press charges.

So you assumption that his images are child porn is unwarranted and unfounded.


OZ & Japan, yeah, it sure looks as if child pornography, is in a bit of a blurred area.

So, lets talk about when somebody else gets him. He won't stay in Australia forever.

Bill has a child erotica thing dogging his career for a very long time so anything young & naked is going to be sexualized, to argue against that is simply being dishonest.

( It's Bill Henson is has to be at the very least ersatz child porn, it's what he does)

I work in the area of sex crime. The lawyers have already looked at this for the police elsewhere. The context for Bill is :

Dark lord of the camera - Arts - Bill Henson's sexualised images of adolescents repel some viewers, but critics are unanimous in ... Dark lord of the camera. By Gina McColl April 17, 2005 ... - Similar pages

That's his form, it is the evidence the cops I know will use. So, Bill can't argue he is a naturalist or some kind of guru, it's sexual, it really is.

Let's get Italy out of the way, I was talking to gendarmerie in Milan (about somthing else) and Bill is in their opinion being compared to their Caravaggio by savages.

Art crime number one, rampant insanity in Oz. I think that is a view that jumps from LA to Milano to London, the sheer mind-flapping exaggeration of it all.

(it also partly explains why he is largely on his own, despite suddenly becoming a little more famous)

The UN, will they eventually ban the trade in Bill's images, well with dem, it might take 5 or 10 years to do very little officially, what will be the reaction in galleries?

The numero uno UN thing, at the mo, is the publishing of a photo (naked) of an alleged sex abuse victim.

That is so taboo, as to have never happened before in the history of printed newspapers.

That was also illegal in Oz, a parent child, copyright owner, artist, none of them can publish or distribute images of an alleged victim, it is without any known (legal) precedent.

It is illegal in Oz.

So, that dove-tails with your puzzling classification board, and the opinion of the Carabinieri in Milano. There is something hick savage about it.

The other police thing is, are there harmed or even dead children because of the VGT issue with the Classification Board, what else have they free passed?

Referrals via VGT, do we have a lot of 'other art' in places, we don't know about?

Would they see something and think 'we need that in a gallery' that the cops in London might jump into their squad cars if they stumbled across it? Time to dump the VGT concept?

I think so.



"So you assumption that his images are child porn is unwarranted and unfounded."

It *has* actually been classified as child pornography, but not in Oz, so we have to wait and see.

Somebody will be convicted for it within a few months.

It was the same with David Hamilton, his stuff was in the US LIbrary of Congress, Carnegie Hall and Royal DAnish Palace.

We were able to start prosecuting people for it, more or less imediately hasn't flipped once.

I work closely with the police, it won't take very long for a Henson related prosecution to crop up.

As for the man himself, well he tends to do that stuff in Oz, it's banned elsewhere. We can only prosecute what is there.

He'll keep it where it's tolerated, which is Oz or Japan or somewhere.

The stuff s retrospectively criminalized here, not the people who made the stuff. Unless they have it with thm.


As somebody connected to pop art as it emerged from the 1960s, in a small way ( I worked with some of the Warhol & Velvet Underground people)

If the 13 girl has the agency to allow Henson to flood the net with naked images of 13 year old girls, what's the barrier to a or 'the' 13 year old girl, using the same agency, going into business for herself?

(which is more valid)

In fact my pedigree, is better than Henson's he's a fucking nobody in real terms, he's an asshole, he's an Oz phenomena, nobody important is buying into his bullshit except Smee in his new job at the Boston Globe.

I'm not doing the polite stuff, to flatter an Oz ego, Henson doesn't out-rank me, I've made more money than him, and had more punters than he will ever have.

I was doing 'mnufactured gender' as art,l in the 1970s, that is body modification, ok, and I am saying Henson is extreme, too much, and dangerous,

He's is shocking me, and I was previously unshockable. It takes more than a dead horse hanging from a ceiling to stall me, but Henson is a block in the path of sanity.

A classroom of 13 year olds pimping themselves on the net, fits the bill for everything that Smee et alia was saying about Henson,

I've now rea thru a pack of promo stuff, reviews, a big wedge, Henson was sexual from the beginning and it was obvious that legal child porn was his objective.

I made more selling fuckin' T-shirts than Henson will make knocking out kiddieporn in the basement for special customers.

One other thing, he's an accidental artist, the (stills from) the exploding plastic inevitable was spooled from 16mm and was better, but just as accidental.

Comparing Carravagio to Andy Warhol would stop conversations in NY, so don't do it for a hick from Oz.


This photo is very beautiful, the girl is very beautiful. The point, still, I would like to make is that of all millions and billiions of things and subjects in the world, do we really have to chose a child naked to express our art? And if we must chose children, then of all the millions of beautiful things that they do and activities that they can be captured indulging in, do we have to chose their being naked to showcase our art? This photo would have been equally or may be more beautiful, if the girl was clothed, and not at all showcasing the unnecessary nudity of a child, who should be enjoying being a 'child' and her innocence as long as possible in the practical world or at least encouraged to enjoy as such.

Has Bill Hanson ever photographed a teenage girl simply smiling, or frowning or learning something for the first time or dancing or trying to focus, or confused?

Children are the only being in the world who are innocent and not corrupt. We should be encouraging them to be remain innocent for as long as possible. To not be part of the 'grown up' things till absolutely necessary. To respect their bodies without the need to go naked. To learn about the confused subject of sex and sexuality in their own time. To be protected from being a subject of controversy, ridicule or gossip, leave alone being the potential 'Porn Queen' as this girl is being labled in some discussions I have personally evidenced.

Henson does 'Silence of the Lambs' faux cine trash art, I think it has firmly placed oz on the map as an incurably hick infested country.

( Fair play to Rudd for calling calling a spade a spade when it is revolting exploitative shit)

Why don't we hang a dead rat from the roof of a gallery. Put a sign up, warning people that art is happening and to skip lunch?

Or we could cut an egg in half, that hasn't bin dun i Oz yet, what 14th century artist can we compare that to?

or better still, strangle a chicken and stuff an egg up it's feathered renaissance arse.

Alison Croggon can then write a poem about it,

because that letter, will haunt her so-called career. It was perniciously misleading.

Cate, doesn't have a career with Disney,

Bill Henson, is inspired by zombie, ghoul, gothic trash, he reads Thomas Harris, that's where his head is.

He's a trash artist. In NYC, they like him as a trash artist,

My opnion of the naked girl is that people simply need to get over it and stop wanting to be offended all twe time. We teach children not to be ashamed of their bodies and then get akk morally outraged when they're shown on display. It's hypocritical and double standards. Goodness knows how some people would cope if they had to live in native tribes in some countries where children of all ages are routinely naked.

i think people are using this to their own advantage.

Gregory Carlin has merely been insisting all along that a distinction be made between adults and children with respect to the pornography issue Far from being some neo-Victorian loony fundamentalist equating of ‘pornographic’ to ‘nude’ per se, it is the festishisation of ‘nude child’ that is being viewed as an obscenity and classifiable under most international jurisdictions (except Australia) as ‘child porn’. Oddly, in this matter, the arts community seemed suddenly bereft of abstract or even logical thinking in so much protesting. It may be salutary to recall that the predatory grooming, manipulation and exploitation of a vulnerable child constitute the rank obscenity at the heart of this debate. If we can deride war as ‘obscene’, we can equally declaim the exploitation of the weak by the powerful as an ‘obscenity’.

Yet even the 20/20 clever clogs’ collective bleat to the PM was incapable of distinguishing between adults and children, disingenuously referring to the generic ‘human’....

The image of the naked girl at the centre of the storm was titled ‘Untitled 2007/08' - thus indicating it was a recent photograph - and at least one formal complaint from the community to the Police was made on the basis of concerns that a very under-age child was at risk. Should this child suffer aggravated distress as a result of extended public debate and further publication of these images (such as at the top of this page), it should be regarded as a regrettable consequence of the making and internet dissemination of the image in the first instance. In the UK any publication of or trade in images of children under-18’s is a criminal offence, with no defence artistic intention admissible under the Protection of Children Act.

The ‘art vs porn’ debate was a disingenuous red herring created by the arts community to fuel anti-censorship hysteria in a flagrant, defensive derailment of what was from the beginning a child protection issue. The pornography issue arose out of the difficulties inherent in laying charges against Henson - not because he did not have a case to answer, but due to the lack of proper legislative framing and uniformity between state laws with respect to (internet) pornography and child protection. The Police were only doing their job in following up to community complaints into opaque territory, and encountered political and legislative difficulties in pursuing an investigation into Henson before the Classification Board’s roll-over resulted in the dropping of the case.

Consenting adults and their activities are not at issue here and never were. It is a rank obscenity, however, for the powerful to exploit the weak - here, a vulnerable child has been exploited by a powerful artist who has rationalised his behaviour in terms of some ‘disinterested’ and pure aesthetic purpose, the depiction of adolescent vulnerability. But the $25k price tag is patently not ‘art for art’s sake’. Henson has groomed these children for his own obscure purposes, despite the hagiography of his friends in high places. His stated aesthetic intentions might surely have been achieved with models over 18, given the traditional modus operandi of genuine artists to represent and symbolize. To scorn those who wish to protect vulnerable children from exploitation by the powerful as zealots, wowsers and philistines is to miss the point and to collude in institutional child abuse.

The serial offending by all parties involved in the photographing of a naked thirteen year-old girl (parental consent is overidden under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) in exhibiting the photograph for sale ($25K for a single image from an edition), selecting the image (from several other alternatives from the non-figurative or ‘landscape’ images comprising the balance of the show) to spruik the exhibition (via both hard copy and email/the internet) - not to mention slef-preserving closing of ranks by the arts community - was abusive, provocative, collusive, and ultimately in violation of the rights of a child to be protected from exploitation by adults - no matter who they may be, where they may live, and no matter what parlous condition the various state and commonwealth laws in Australia happen to be in at the time.

I was able to copy and print the image at the top of this page. That makes this website morally if not at present legally complicit in the internet dissemination of an image of a naked, under age child - irrespective of what the Classification Board has been politically pressured into ‘free-passing’. Beautiful children are prey to all, and the invoking of an aesthetic motivation is just a new version of an old story.

Children do not know their own minds and are vulnerable to persuasion, coercion and the self-interested neglect of adults, which includes the imprimatur of national galleries. I saw the show in question (twice) and I am familiar with Henson’s oeuvre. He way well be a superb craftsman, but he is also a derivative mediocrity with pots of money, power, and an art world/market who have eagerly provided his aesthetic rationales for him for years. His not inconsiderable talents and skills are in these instances in service to his sexual interests. ’Mnemosyne’ contains child pornography. Henson plays with the paedophilic gaze as if it were mere peccadillo and chic, decadent transgression. But it is not, and none of this is in the least romantic.

Irrespective of his crafty proclivities, Henson does not derive these images from memory and imagination as a painter or sculptor or even filmaker might. His artistic and moral failure is encapsulated by his invocation of “necessity” to justify the photographing of actual naked under-age children to explicate superfluous psychological cliches about adolescent experience.

At the very least Henson exploits an apparent lack of appropriate boundaries in an ‘incestuous’ art world. Anna Schwartz and Roslyn Oxley crowed publically about their pride in their daughters' being photographed by Henson, admitting at least to a cosy business arrangement that would not pass muster anywhere else in the corporate world irrespective of its now obviously dubious nature. This storm broke solely because of increasing community awareness and intolerance of child abuse, and it may well be an outcome that his May ‘08 exhibition was Henson’s last act of artistic transgression in this country at least.



Hmmmm - middle-aged man persuading twelve year old girl to remove clothes for photoshoot, is child abuse.

Whiffy early career Hensons are turning up on the secondary market. It is unsurprising that the vendor of ‘Untitled 1985/86' is a tad skittish and wanting to offload (see Mnemosyne, p 233 for another from the same shoot).

Corrie Perkin’s report last week in The Australian (9/9/08) on the Henson pic up for auction at Lawson-Menzies was timely (despite causing nary a ripple) given that David Marr is launching his new book "The Henson Case: Art and Panic" on Oct 13th at the Seymour Centre.

Marr, a card-carrying civil-libertarian (and we all know about those!), was unflagging in his efforts to ensure the core issue of the Henson debate was hijacked from child protection to art censorship. (It would not be entirely in the realm of fantasy to suggest that he may even have been responsible for getting the Roslyn Oxley image before the Classification Board, thereby emasculating the prosecution.... but then I may just be paranoid).

But what if Cat #214 was put before the Classification Board? it would certainly be interesting to see what was made of an under age nude, legs akimbo, this time round.