May 26, 2008

Clothed defense

A young woman who posed for Bill Henson many years ago when she was a child has defended his now confiscated exhibition of another naked pubescent lass.
"The experience was enlightening. It never crossed my mind that what I was doing was pornographic," Ms Baudet said.
Ah, sure.

Compelling defense.
"Ms Elenberg did not pose nude - she and her mother had decided that "under no circumstances" would she take her clothes off, even though they said Henson did not directly ask her."
Oh, I see.

Not porn says Henson's model

Many a blog commenter has expressed their admiration for the Henson photographs, citing "tasteful" or "evocative" and "artistic" - of course. Just as many have recoiled from the notion of a 13 year old stripping off so that an old guy can take photo's of her in a variety of poses.

Variable lighting - dark, shaded, illuminated - is not a synonym for photographic art. When mine come out like that it's because the flash didn't work, or the subject was standing in an unlit cave.

Henson's lengthy history of taking provocative, disturbing photographs of naked boys and girls - young folk who are far too young to give informed consent - is a tad icky for me.

Like much that is praised in the art world, Henson's recently exhibited and now in police custody photographs are not innovative, not insightful, and not even thought provoking (if not for the flurry of publicity).

They're mildly stomach-churning though.

If you like your art repellent, then I guess it's art. If your like your pornography the same way, then I guess it's porn.


(Sorry, only just catching up with the Saturday papers now ... )

From art critic Robert Nelson:

"In the past, I've been critical of Henson's work and have noted the parallel between his images and pornography. The sense of a powerful male presence of the photographer and a disempowered youngster as model has to be faced. I find the pictures a bit creepy.

Part of the reason we have art and literature is to express all kinds of feelings and fantasies, not so that they become the new moral order but so that we can fathom what lies within our consciousness or the minds of other people. It isn't exactly a cone of impunity, where all kinds of criminal intentions can be harboured; because that would be immediately be recognised as inartistic.

The crime against culture would be if Henson were forced to recede to landscape and abandon his lurid sneaky transports, his obsession, his almost confessional lustful darkness that shadows the figure — almost gropingly — and expresses a side of the male imagination that agonisingly persists in spite of all discouragement."


Now I might throw up.

Yet, Nelson defends the work, and our right to collude in Henson's "almost confessional lustful darkness ... [and] the male imagination that agonisingly persists in spite of all discouragement".
"Unfortunately, the law is denying us this fundamental right."
Even if you don't agree with the conclusion, which is strangely at odds with everything that precedes it, at least Nelson, unlike any other commentator, doesn't avoid the topic. He is bracingly blunt, he doesn't choke when it comes to confronting the truth of Henson's work. No one else has been so startlingly direct. Kudos to him.

Creepy? Perhaps, but it's not porn


  1. You know my feelings about this one Caz!
    I was ropeable the other day when I viewed those pics.

    Of course the poses were sexual.

    They were erotic and suggestive.

    A young pre-pubescent girl has no business posing in such a manner, coupled with the sinister and lurid lighting.

    "young folk who are far too young to give informed consent"

    I find that really worrying too Caz. What will the girl feel about this in say, ten or twenty years?

    What beats it all is how can parents consent to such a trashy shoot!

    Had Henson photographed a couple engaged in oral sex, would that too be acceptable simply because
    some considered it great photography = great art!

    Art? My arse!

  2. Only if the back lighting was brooding and the models wore black nail polish, then it would be self-evidently arty, and about something entirely other than oral sex.

    And yeah, my arse isn't much chop either (never was), but I don't go telling people that!