Australia’s Prime Minister called the pictures “revolting”. The Classification Board gave a sample set of photos grades of G and PG. Cate Blanchett warned Australia that it risked its standing in the art world if they shut down the world-renowned photographer’s exhibit, and in the end Bill Henson will have his photographs displayed. Why all the fuss? Henson’s photographs show nude 13-year-olds:
Photographs of nude teenagers that prompted police to close a gallery exhibit in Australia’s biggest city and launch an obscenity investigation were cleared Friday as non-pornographic, and police dropped their case against the artist.
Police announced that no charges would be laid in connection to the photographs by leading Australian photographer Bill Henson.
The decision appeared to clear the way for the reopening of the Henson exhibit at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery. Police shut down the exhibit hours before it was to open May 22 and confiscated dozens of photographs of naked adolescent boys and girls to investigate whether they violated obscenity laws.
Can nude photographs of pubescent children be considered art? Perhaps, but as a parent, I’d be hard pressed to understand why an artist would suddenly want to photograph dozens of 13-year-olds without their clothes on for any artistic reason. In fact, I’m even more curious as to why the parents of these models allowed it.
I’m much more libertarian about what adults do with clothes and photography. If adults choose to show off their genitals for cash, that’s a decision they make on their own. Nudes have a long and honorable tradition in art, so I understand the artistic value of images of nudes in sculpture, paintings, and photography. But children already get sexualized at ever-younger ages, especially in Western society, and that tradition doesn’t require 13-year-old models to survive.
Kevin Rudd, the center-left PM, snorted at the ruling of the Classification Board, calling the idea of the display “revolting”, and despite Blanchett’s criticism, says he will not change his mind. Blanchett says that creativity was being stifled. I’d say that creativity has its limits, and that nude models for artistic or any other purposes should be of an age where they can understand the implications for themselves and not get exploited for other purposes.