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Bill Henson gets indignant about people being upset over him photographing naked children

August 4, 2010

Bill Henson gets indignant about people being upset over him photographing naked children


In the world that lies between the city and the suburbs is this strange middle kingdom called the inner suburbs? Like the Middle Earth from Lord of the Rings it is inhabited but small frail creatures that live in fear of invasions from the terrible forces of Mordor. Only in the case of the inner suburbs they appear to be emotionally frail creatures that live in fear of having to deal with reality. Unlike the occupants of Middle Earth the occupants of the Inner Suburbs do not raise armies but instead resort to looking down their noses at the rest of the world. It is a self fulfilling fantasy where they are self appointed gurus and oracles to the hordes of ignorant philistines that would dare question their right to photograph young children naked.


How else could we explain the long winded rage that photo artist Bill Henson has made against those that question his wisdom. In fact on the 3rd of August 2010 he did just that.


In a lecture at the Melbourne Art Foundation 2010 he complained bitterly that he had been misjudged. He chastised politicians for not being more statesmen like and to defend the place art has in contemporary society.


The reality of what made Bill Henson the centre of controversy was an exhibition in Sydney where he displayed naked photographs of a 13 year old girl. The image that sparked the community outrage featured on the cover of a government arts grant sponsored magazine. Criticism came from far and wide including the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who labelled the exhibition as “absolutely revolting.” Child welfare groups also criticised Henson for trying to blur the lines between child porn and art. Many of the more graphic images were not displayed in much the media who either blacked out the appropriate parts. However the description was one of seductive poses, if not highly sexualized. Makeup and lipstick included.


We have to remember that we are talking about a 13 year child. Under any circumstance it raises questions of ethics and exploitation.


Later it was revealed that Bill Henson had been allowed to enter school play yards looking for more ‘talent’ to be photographed naked.


The disconnect between Bill Henson and the real world appears to have its supporters. In Melbourne where he gave his speech before an obediently nodding crowd of ‘so called art lovers’ he delivered. There was no protest, no gasps of horror and little more than silent acceptance his theory that a child of 13 is mature enough to know what they are consenting to when agree to be photographed naked.


“Of course, you can’t speak about consent without speaking about harm. Now, I’m not talking about imagined harm. I’m not talking about perceived harm. Actual harm to our kids…” Henson says in his speech and then adds later, “… I’m talking about the harm that results from underage contact sport.”


“There is no statistical documentation to suggest anywhere, so far as my legal research has been able to discover, that shows that life modelling by children for artists results in physical or psychological damage.”


What was missing from this cleverly crafted statement was the fact that his exhibition only became controversial because he was photographing naked children. One of the most vocal defences for Henson has come by comparing his photography with that of cherubs. This sort of comparison doe draw a very long bow as it presumes that Henson’s art is of the same platonic nature. Unfortunately that cannot be said. Images bordering on eroticization of children (some may say that it crossing that border) belong to a very unique and dark category. Just Henson believes that art should be disturbing it does not justify the exploitation of children for the sake of a subcultured fad.


Some novices and pundits of the arts may be reading this and immediately throwing out the accusation that anyone who criticized Henson is a philistine. However this merely reinforces the image that such people are indeed elitists living in a moral void. In other words ‘if an artist does it then it is okay’ but if a ‘philistine does it then it is a crime’.

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