Bill Henson – artist or pervert?

In Sydney yesterday an exhibition of images by acclaimed photographer Bill Henson was raided by police and its opening night was cancelled. The DPP are currently examining the photographs, the events surrounding their being taken, and interviewing all the models concerned, The reason was that the images to be displayed were of ‘underage’ children, as young as 12.

The picture below was ‘borrowed’ from a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, because in the background is one of the images currently at risk of being labelled ‘kiddie porn’.
Bill Henson - photographer

From the outset I have to admit to being *no* judge of art, let alone photography as art, so its merits on that plane are something on which I’m simply not competent to comment. This leaves me looking at the image as ‘the man in the street’, and from that perspective I*do* find this picture, and the larger issue, quite disturbing.

I’ve got mixed feelings about it on many levels and find it incredibly difficult to form a cohesive opinion. So other than being ‘disturbed’, exactly how *do* I feel about it?

To begin, I’m assuming the reason this particular image was chosen as the background to the picture of the ‘artist’, is that it is in some way representative of the remainder and if that is the case then I see where the problems lie.

Whilst the image isn’t in the least ‘erotic’, the girl’s pose does make her appear highly vulnerable and (in my eyes) suggests she is somewhat unsure and unhappy with being exposed to the camera lens. Of course this is *my* interpretation and perhaps says more about me that it does of the photographer, however if I consider myself to be ‘ordinary’ then many other people would surely see it in a similar way.

Perhaps had the girl been more ‘naturalistically’ posed, looking directly at the camera with a smile on her face I’d not have felt so disturbed by it. The child would then have been engaging with the viewer and become a part of the interaction rather than the object of the focus. However she isn’t.

Of course, because I’m not the artist, it may be that this is perhaps what the intent was… since a more ‘natural’ pose would have looked totally artificial with no more ‘artistic’ value than you could probably find if you searched through sites on naturism for pictures of children, however, if the intent *was* to ‘disturb’ then with me at least it succeeded. So again I’m questioning the motives of the photographer in posing her the way he did.

And yet… some of me accepts that the photographing of people is a perfectly valid art form and the setting of an age limit at which recording images becomes acceptable is totally arbitrary. How many of us have seen photographs or watched documentaries of ‘primitive peoples’ whose members, young and old, appear totally naked. Why are *they* acceptable and these potentially going to be classed as pornography?

Perhaps because for these peoples nudity is their ‘natural state’ ? I don’t know, but I feel I’m grasping the edges of something here that I can’t quite get to grips with.

Would I be so concerned if this was a painting? I don’t know, but perhaps the issue for me isn’t just the image per se, it’s the question of just what motivation Bill Henson has for photographing naked children. If he is looking for insights into their personalities, why not photograph them clothed? If he is concerned with the interplay of light, form and feature on human skin, why not use adult models? Either way I’m yet to be convinced it is socially or ethically acceptable to display children’s bodies this way. Yet at the same time can’t quite pin down *why* I think it’s wrong!!

I’d appreciate some comment on the rights and wrongs of the pictures themselves and of the concept of the exhibition. If anyone wants to further comment on the complaints it’s generated and why, that might also help. I certainly wouldn’t want my own 12 year old daughter pose naked for a photographer, but just because *I* wouldn’t doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ‘wrong’.

Some assistance understanding what the range of issues are here might help.


27 thoughts on “Bill Henson – artist or pervert?

  1. I have no problem with people photographing 12 year old girls, in everyday life playing, at school, or walking down the street.
    But asking a 12 year old to be photographed nude?
    For what reason other than to satisfy ones ego, because he can do it!

    The only time I have ever seen a naked pre teen girl before was while watching a video with my kids on the development of the human body.
    She wasn’t posed just standing there with other females of varying ages. To me it was important for kids to understand the human development and I could see no problem with the girl in this video. Was she exploited? I dont think so.

    Was the girl in Bill’s pictures exploited? “Yes”
    His pictures served no lagitamate reason for using such a young girl but to serve his own needs. If you went to some remote area of the world and the locals were all naked thats the way they are, thats their rules.
    In our country we have rules and I’m afraid Bill has broken them, “Its not art, Its porn”

    As for the girls parents “Shame on you” you dont deserve kids, you are ment to protect your children, not exploit them!

    Cheers
    Mark

  2. I’d love to be able to ask the parents “If you’d never heard of Bill Henson and I told you I knew of a man who spent his days taking photos of naked little girls what would come to mind?”

    Somehow I doubt very much if the words ‘acclaimed international photographic artist’ would be the first thing they thought of.

    And whilst the parents might have approved… did their daughter walk up to them one day and say “Hey… I’d like to be photographed naked please!”. I’m sure somewhere in law it’s enshrined that a 12 year old really isn’t capable of giving ‘informed consent’, so how did she end up in his studio without her clothes anyway??

    There are all sorts of unanswered questions left hanging here.

  3. This issue is not black and white. You don’t know what the girl wanted, so don’t try to make her look like a victim until she SAYS something about the photos. Don’t try to make her look ashamed of appearing in photographs, naked. Who says this girl was ‘exploited’, as you say… did she? She, nor her parents, have released statements on the issue.

    Bill Henson isn’t taking these photos ‘because he can’. He’s doing it to express a theme and emotions which many people find themselves grappling with, but find it difficult to express. Henson’s artwork has helped me understand things that I found difficult comprehending before I saw similar emotions expressed within his photographs. Yes, it is a touchy issue. Yes, the issues may be disturbing, as the photographs may be, but they are NOT sexually provocative.

    Television and the media are worse offenders, did you ever think of that?

    If you took a photo of a 12 year old girl fully clothed ‘at school’ or ‘walking down the street’ you would not feel the same sentiments (as in Henson’s works) would you? The photographs would not explain the same thing.

    Sit in a few art history classes. Gain some artistic appreciation. Learn something about the context, because right now, your opinions sound one-sided, undeveloped and very uninformed.

    Think about what the ARTIST is trying to SAY, that is what art is! Perhaps he is making a commentary on the oversexualisation of children in today’s society?

    The photographs are not provocative. If somebody sees them as sexual, then that is their problem. I’m sure they can find MUCH worse on the internet.

  4. As it happens I *have* seen some of his Bill Henson’s other works and the majority are quite exceptional nevertheless, all the justification in the world does not alter one jot the fact that this guy makes his living taking photos of naked or near naked little girls. Under most normal circumstances this sort of behaviour he would be considered *highly* suspect!

    As for the child herself, your comment is extremely naive to say the least. Whoever the girl was is essentially irrelevant. The fundamental point is that it is unlikely in the extreme that *she* initiated the contacts that led her to pose naked!!

    Undeveloped and uninformed I may be in terms of artistic appreciation but this does not mean that the ‘art world’ can abandon the norms of the society in which it functions and not expect (and receive) censure.

    This girl *is* a victim and her ‘modesty (for want of a better word) has been violated and exploited by this man as *he* searches to portray *his* understanding of adolescent sexuality. In his search he has abandoned this girls integrity as an person and objectified her.

    His search for truth in art could have been better conducted by not exposing this girl to the world in the way he has. Ultimately the law exists to prevent young people, especially girls, from exploitation.

    Had these photos been taken by anyone else other than Bill Henson they would have been immediately classed as indecent. There is no reason under the law why Bill Henson should be allowed to publish indecent images simply because of his standing as an artist.

    I have no doubt that after a short search on the Internet would I could locate pictures of naked prepubescent girls in much the same poses as those in the confiscated pictures. The only real difference between the two sets of images is that I could be arrested and be given a criminal record for viewing and downloading the one… and charged $25,000 by Bill Henson for the other!!

    Finally this comment that “If somebody sees them as sexual, then that is their problem” is just bizarre, and if you can’t work out why it’s *our* problem as well as theirs, then you really *do* have problems.

  5. I, like other Australians, PM included, are admittedly prudish. But don’t get me wrong—I admire many of his photographs; his Paris Opera series, his crowds, even some portraits, I think they are magnificent. His brooding landscapes are moving and poetically metaphorical. His nude children are, well, nude children.

    So, either he’s the pervert, an issues the art world have been tippy-toeing around for years, or he’s just using children for its very effective, media grabbing “shock value”.

    Take away the “chiaroscuro” back lighting with it’s enigmatic night scene backgrounds, photoshoppers can easily compare his images with those found on porn-site (see my Photoshop example on ladymadonna.org).

    Contemporary art tries furiously to push limits, create taboos—aiming for shocking, wrong, or ugly. But using girls on the brink of puberty was OK in the sixteenth century, but today, it’s obscene, in legal terms at least. Henson’s photographs have been pushing the limits of Australia’s obscenity and child pornography for years— Whilst at the same time, he’s represented Australia at the 46th Venice Biennale, our National galleries, publish three photographic books… putting Australian art on the map.

    So why now?

  6. Had a look at the picture on your site and yes… there is a remarkable similarity between what you’ve produced out of ‘porn’ to what Bill Henson was showing.

    Should give those defending ‘art for arts sake’ regardless some pause for thought I’d hope!!

  7. Henson’s work is fetishistic….let’s get that straight.

    Do we really need to be documenting/depicting the vulnerability of a naked young girl in a photograph?

    Don’t we already know that children are vulnerable and need our protection from anyone who tries to take advantage of them in order to serve their agenda?

    There are cleverer ways to choose a subject.
    No need to involve a child that lacks the emotional and sexual maturity to understand the reasons why it’s ‘appropriate’ for some old bloke with a very expensive camera to objectify her.

    Those shots cannot have been easy for the young girl.

    I think the recent confiscation of his artwork should be followed by a very close eye on him…and on the deals he makes with adult carers/parents/guardians of these children.

    Oh and in the interim, Billy….go see how light plays on something else mate and leave children alone! Try visiting gaols and photograph some rock spiders. I’m sure the delicate play of light on their depraved flesh pressed against metal security gates will be a more telling theme!
    Or is that kinda truth too painful for you?

  8. “From the outset I have to admit to being *no* judge of art, let alone photography as art, so its merits on that plane are something on which I’m simply not competent to comment. This leaves me looking at the image as ‘the man in the street’, and from that perspective I*do* find this picture, and the larger issue, quite disturbing.

    I’ve got mixed feelings about it on many levels and find it incredibly difficult to form a cohesive opinion. So other than being ‘disturbed’, exactly how *do* I feel about it?

    To begin, I’m assuming the reason this particular image was chosen as the background to the picture of the ‘artist’, is that it is in some way representative of the remainder and if that is the case then I see where the problems lie.

    Whilst the image isn’t in the least ‘erotic’, the girl’s pose does make her appear highly vulnerable and (in my eyes) suggests she is somewhat unsure and unhappy with being exposed to the camera lens. Of course this is *my* interpretation and perhaps says more about me that it does of the photographer, however if I consider myself to be ‘ordinary’ then many other people would surely see it in a similar way.”

    I suspect that what you’ve said here is the EXACT reaction you were supposed to get from the photo.

  9. If this was the exact reaction he expected from ordinary people then it’s a bit ingenuous to complain when this is how ordinary people react!!

    Regardless of that point, it doesn’t resolve any of the outstanding issues. How did this little girl end up naked in front of a 43 year old man? What does this say about parental responsibility? If porn is artistically posed… or produced by an ‘internationally acclaimed artist’ does it cease to be porn?? Is it socially, morally and/or ethically acceptable to expose the body of 13 year old girls in this way??

    And what of other images he’s produced, at least one of which I’ve viewed which simply *has* to be breaching child porn laws in most of the developed world!

    He may be pushing the boundaries of what is possible in art… but we as ordinary people have to man those boundaries and push back in order to protect what little innocence is left to our young people.

    Much of Henson’s work is simply breathtakingly beautiful… however I’ve come down on the side of restraint and decided images of naked little girls are just porn.

  10. …and the Australian Classifications Board clearly have rocks in their heads, or are bigger perverts than Bill Hensen.

  11. It is amazing, child porn in Britain and family viewing in Oz! It is one of the reasons Henson has provoked a crisis vis a vis VGT members, the Oz people free pass child pornograhers all the time.

    That obviously leads to US and Brit kids being harmed. It’s Oz, what does one expect. I wouldn’t plan on seeing Bill arriving at Heathrow in the near future, I think Cambodia, Japan or Oz, are the limits of his dog leash.

  12. “And what of other images he’s produced, at least one of which I’ve viewed which simply *has* to be breaching child porn laws in most of the developed world!”

    It is the reason he has to sell the stuff in a basement in Oz! He is not allowed to do it in Europe, and the cut of his friends, as if he is some kind of genius, he can copy 1880s retro child porn, does that make him a national treasure?

    Rolf Harris had a better clsaim to be Caravaggio, what we’re looking at is an Australia, which still has Botany Bay written all over it. It is sheep shearing uber alles, it’s sad.

    1. Re: ‘Catalogue may reignite Bill Henson row’ – http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,24316284-16947,00.html, I was error in identifying the photograph as the Sylvester/Tweetie image – though not the one I thought it was – ‘Untitled 1985/86’ is up for auction in a week or so at Lawson-Menzies and is from a similarly entitled series, identically dated, and equally damning of Henson and his longstanding paedophile activities.

      Rather than heralding a return to jackbooted censorship, the “position of the law” is now being conveniently invoked by Tamara Winikoff to more or less legitimize Henson’s entire oeuvre (including, by extension, the above photograph).

      Mr Tim “I have no qualms” Abdallah (Lawson-Menzies auction house) may be forgiven for his single-minded pragmatism and business acumen, but Winikoff’s assertion that “Henson’s work has been assessed by the Classification Board…and it didn’t break the law” encapsulates the gobsmacking backpedalling sophistry of the arts community that was so insulting to the intelligence of the broader community throughout the Henson debate.

      The Classification Board’s absurd ‘PG’ rating on June 6th does not by any stretch of the imagination legally extend to Henson’s entire oeuvre, no matter how much Winikoff and her comrades wish it could, and her authoritarian pronouncement, “That should be the end of it” will not make this bobbing corpse go away.

      This is the early-career photograph up for auction at Lawson-Menzies (‘Untitled, 1985/86’ – see Mnemosyne, p 233 ):

      http://www.menziesartbrands.com/cgi/dmcat.cgi?rm=display_lot&item_id=14997

      I wonder what the Classification Board would make of this image?…. it is easily downloaded from the Menzies website.

      1. Well ok… if this one shouldn’t be classified as porn then I really don’t know what is!! How on earth is this pose ‘artistic’?

        I think you’ll find tho that the DPP has had its fingers burned so many times by Henson’s supporters that they may just ignore this in the hope it’ll go away.

        The girl may or may not not feel ‘exploited’ – but she clearly has been!!!

  13. What can one say. Seems it’s now ok for us to display this stuff with impunity. It’s just bizarre.

    Admittedly there are other ‘internationally acclaimed’ photographers who concentrate on images of naked little girls… but you can look them up for yourself. The point is that whilst Henson might not be the worst, his photos still smack of fetishism if nothing else… and I reckon there *is* a lot ‘else’!

    I’m no prude but I think there are some areas of potential exploitation that need to be left alone, and pictures of naked kids are one.

  14. Agreed!

    Someone should make a new version of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”…and change the lyric to “Henson, leave those kids alone!”

    But all jokes aside, I’m disgusted that ‘stars’ and some of my creative contemporaries got behind causes like this claiming that censorship is in direct conflict with artistic expression and freedom of speech.

    FFS! To censor, means NOT FOR PUBLIC VIEWING! I think their focus should not deviate from the real issue here which is NOT about censorship, it’s about..NOT FOR PUBLIC [OR PRIVATE] DOING!

    I’m repulsed by pseudo intellectual wankers who need to align themselves with some of society’s low lives in order to confirm their own deluded self importance and questionable creative output.

    Now the thing about art’s commodity outside of the kudos of ‘national treasure’ is in fact the demand of the work, which of course has to do with its investment factor. Think of it as an adult version of collecting footy cards.

    I’d be interested to see who the collectors of Henson’s work are. In fact, I think that anyone who has purchased any of the works should be subjected to some kind of investigation…where there is a Henson there is the high probability a rock spider…I’m sure of it!

    I recall a guy I met a few years ago whot was crazy about Henson’s work. He eventually made his own headlines as a pedophile…do you guys remember the chap from Minter Ellison, Mr. Michael Poynder? I believe he is currently serving time for exploiting children in 3rd world countries.

    This whole business makes me sick to the core. I’m not a mother and I’m definitely not conservative by any stretch of the imagination…but let’s at least get something right and call a spade, “A spade”….or a pedophile, a PEDOPHILE”.

    And someone PLEASE do something about the PARENTS authorising this s*it to happen!

    .nuff said.

  15. people who think it’s kiddy porn. have any of you actually looked at his works on an artistic view? the pictures are MEANT to be disturbing, if u look at the expression and the mood and the techniques he’s used i think you’ll find that even though he uses nudity of younger people, and even using two of them in passionate positions.. its not trying to get any body off just because they’re not wearing clothes, it’s using different techniques to have an effect on the viewer! this is very basic stuff people! i can think of artists that have done so much worse!

    if its such a big concern to you why do you go looking for some real kiddy porn? i doubt perverts would waste they’re time with bill henson’s art works wen im sure they’d be able to get worse on the internet or local porn store.

  16. Not sure what you comment was about me going looking for “real kiddy porn”… I have better things to do with my time… like criticising old men with a fetish for young girls making a living out of selling photographs of them naked!

    For your next trick you might like to explain why he focuses on naked 12 year old girls for his ‘artistic’ endeavours instead of applying the same techniques to adult females.

    By the way I have no problem with other work by Bill Henson. Some of it is quite beautiful, but that doesn’t alter the simple fact that in *these* photographs he is exploiting the vulnerability of these young girls for his own benefit.

  17. I was interested in the point of view which says this may be bad but there is far worse for you to concentrate on – even a small battle against this type of exploitation is better than no battle at all= I do wonder about the childrens parents – did they understand what was happening or were they also exploited

  18. Bill Henson is a very sick puppy. He has to sell his kiddie porn photos in Oz, because he is banned from doing it anywhere else. He belongs in jail with Gary Glitter.

    1. “He has to sell his kiddie porn photos in Oz, because he is banned from doing it anywhere else.”

      Tazia,
      Wrong on two counts, 1. not kiddie porn (ask the police, no case to answer), 2 where is Henson’s work banned besides the vacuum of your mind?

      1. That particular image was considered to be ‘accecptable’ but it is in no way representative of the worst of Henson’s excesses.

        For some idea of what the ongoing furore is about, have a look at this image and tell me this isn’t ‘kiddie porn’!!

  19. Gregory Carlin has been insisting all along that a distinction be made between adults and children with respect to the pornography issue. Even the 20/20 creatives’ collective whine to the PM persisted in conflating ‘adults’ and ‘children’ in referring to the generic ‘human’ in their defense of Henson and their “bigger picture” call to arms against the imminent rise of jack-booted censorship (never mind the jackbooted bullying of the child advocate, Hetty Johnston, in the process).

    Far from being some neo-Victorian equating of ‘pornographic’ to ‘nude’ per se, however, it was the persistent paedophilic theme in Henson’s work – for years denied by the arts community – that finally came under critical and legal scrutiny, the whole kit and caboodle finally exposed by the gross dereliction of the Roslyn Oxley Gallery in shooting the image into cyperspace. The PM’s somewhat precipitous “revolting” comment when ambushed by the media with the image was not a prudish reaction to ‘nudity’ per se, nor to a ‘naked child’ per se, but was a heartfelt shock reaction to an image derived from a flagrantly exploitative situation. Ignorance of art was immaterial, but was nonetheless opportunistically seized upon by the arts community. Oddly, in this matter, the arts intelligentsia and public intellectuals seemed extraordinarily bereft of abstract or even logical thinking in their orgy of anti-censorship protest, let alone capable of considering for a single moment the rights of a child as possibly superseding their inalienable rights to free speech.

    The passage of the 2005 retrospective without comment or objection did not undermine the legitimacy of the May complaints. The imprimatur of the AGNSW would silence most critics and assuage uncertain school kids. Much of Henson’s ‘under-age’ photography, however, is classifiable as obscene in the narrowest of terms and, under most international jurisdictions (e.g. the UK Protection of Children Act), as ‘child porn’. It was never solely the image per se that was at issue; it was its status as the product of a sexually abusive creative process – the predatory soliciting, inducement, grooming, coercion, and exploitation of a vulnerable child – that constituted the rank obscenity at the heart of the debate (if we can deride war as ‘obscene’, surely we can equally declaim the exploitation of the weak by the powerful as an ‘obscenity’).

    The emperor indeed has no clothes, and seems also to enjoy the frisson of exhibiting his beautiful, vulnerable quarries with impunity, backed by a glamorous cheer squad. Without an obvious ‘sexual context’, however, it was always going to be hard to establish the image in question as pornographic under Australian law. (The exhibited image 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 after initially consulting child protection authorities with respect to concerns that a very under-age child was at risk).

    To scorn those who wish to protect vulnerable children from exploitation by the powerful as zealots, wowsers and philistines is to miss a critical point and borders on complicity in sanctioning institutional child abuse and neglect. Consenting adults and their activities were never at issue here. The real ‘obscenity’ lay in the exploitation of the weak by the powerful – here, a vulnerable child (with the complicity of her parents) was exploited by a ‘famous artist’ in whom she had been persuaded to entrust herself – an artist who then exploited her vulnerability in order to pursue his programme of depicting adolescent vulnerability!

    This egregious circularity would be in itself suspect if its absurdity wasn’t so glaring. But add a $25k price tag for a single print and suddenly Henson’s programme seems not quite so pure and disinterested….all of a sudden it seems very dangerous for little girls.

    As suggested by Ilana and Iota in the above thread, Henson’s stated aesthetic intentions might have been just as easily fulfilled with models over 18, given that art is the vehicle for symbolisation par excellence. But for some reason Henson has been compelled to solicit his child models from Australian supermarkets, foreign cities, and the art-world elites to fulfil his obscure intentions, none of which has dampened the enthusiastic hagiography of the local art market.

    The ‘art vs porn’ debate was a disingenuous red herring created by the arts community to fuel anti-censorship hysteria in a flagrant, self-preserving deflection of attention from what was from the beginning a child protection/child abuse issue. The ‘pornography’ issue also emerged out of the inadequacies of the law and statutory obstacles to laying charges against Henson – not because he did not have a case to answer, but due to lack of proper legislative framing and uniformity between state laws with respect to (internet) pornography and child protection.

    While the Police may have been heavy-handed at times in their investigations, they were only doing their job in following up community complaints into new, very worrying, opaque, and enclosed territory. That they encountered political and legislative obstacles in their investigation into Henson (climaxing in the Classification Board’s tactical roll-over that led ultimately to the dropping of the case) was in no small measure thanks to the Sydney arts and letters elites and their seemingly inexhaustible self-interest.

    Should this young girl suffer aggravated distress as a result of extended public debate and the republication of these now declassified images, it must be regarded as an inevitable, regrettable consequence of the conditions of the making, exhibition and internet dissemination of the image in the first instance, and the subsequent revictimization of the child by various media in continuing to publish it. The serial offending by all parties involved in the initial photographing of a naked child (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), in selecting the image (from several other alternatives of non-figurative or ‘landscape’ images comprising the balance of the show) to spruik the exhibition (via both hard copy and the internet), and in the closing of ranks by the arts community against the legitimate concerns of the wider community, was abusive, provocative, collusive, and ultimately in contempt of the rights of children to be protected from exploitation by adults – no matter who they are, where they live, or what parlous condition the various state and commonwealth child protection laws in Australia happen to be in at this time.

    Tragically, beautiful children are especially prey in our voyeuristic culture to ever-mutating versions of an old abuse storyy, and the invoking of aesthetic intent is just a new twist to an old rationale. Dependent children do not know their own (unmyelenated) minds and are thus vulnerable to persuasion, coercion and the self-interested collusion of adults (which includes the imprimatur of national galleries).

    I viewed the re-opened Henson show twice. I am familiar with Henson’s oeuvre. He may be a superlative craftsman, but he is also a derivative mediocrity who attracts the perpetual indulgence that fame, power, the lure of his own techniques and an over-invested art world/market (who have eagerly penned his aesthetic rationales for him for years) can provide him.

    Whatever his proclivities, Henson does not derive his illuminated child nudes from memory and imagination as a painter, or sculptor, or even a filmmaker might. He uses actual children. His aesthetic and moral vacuity is encapsulated by his invocation of “necessity” to justify the photographing of actual naked under-age children to explicate superfluous psychological cliches about subjective adolescent experience.

    Henson has reached an artistic impasse. What kind of ‘disinterested gaze’ drives the behaviour of a middle-aged photographer to induce a twelve or thirteen year-old girl to remove her clothes and to bend forwards doggy-style, letting her long hair fall seductively, her budding breasts dropping slightly for him in an extended studio photoshoot?

    Henson’s internationally-renowned talents and skills are, in these instances, unequivocally in service to his voyeurism and paedophilic transgression.

    If ‘sexual context’ is somehow still needed, ’Mnemosyne’ contains plenty of classifiable child pornography. Henson likes it both ways: in 2005 he flaunted his paedophilic gaze as if it were mere radical chic, decadent transgression. Now, in 2008, his gratuitous depiction of a naked under-age girl has leapt beyond even the vaguely erotic, transcended the real-world fact of actual relationship, and attained the unassailable metaphysical realms of pure art.

    Artists and the art world can no longer regard themselves as exempt from the constraints and limits imposed upon the rest of the community. Children are entitled to their formative years protected from the perverse motives of disturbed adults. At the very least, Henson exploits an apparent dearth of ethical constraints and limits in a transgression-titillated, commercially ‘incestuous’ and omnipotent art world. Anna Schwartz and Roslyn Oxley crowed publically about consenting to their daughters’ being photographed by Henson, admitting to a ‘cosy’ commercial arrangement that would not pass muster anywhere else in the corporate world due to its now blatantly inappropriate nature.

    This storm broke solely because of increasing community awareness and intolerance of child abuse and exploitation, and it may well be an outcome that his May ‘08 exhibition was Henson’s last act of boundary-riding in this country at least.

  20. Hensons are turning up on the secondary market. It is unsurprising that the owneris a tad skittish and wanting to offload, if it is from the ‘1985/86 Untitled’ series catalogued in Mnemosyne (p 298).

    Corrie Perkin’s report in The Australian yesterday about the Henson photograph up for auction at Lawson-Menzies gives the title as ‘Untitled 1985/86′, so, unless I am mistaken, the photograph is from the same series.

    The image in Mnemosyne is catalogued as follows:

    Untitled 1985/86
    from a series of 154 type C photographs
    106.5 x 86.5

    Perkins describes a sleeping “teenager”, but provides no other identifying details.

    If the catalogue numbers/titles and dates are accurate and concordant, there is no other sleeping child on a bed in that series (in chiaroscuro the model looks somewhat older than when the image is ‘exposed’). There is only one other teenage female nude in that series (oiled and standing), but that is the sum of it – the remainder comprises his usual trojan horse mixed bag (mainly ‘romantic’ soft focus heads of girls and boys in this show).

    Should this be the same image (on of an edition of several usually), then it is unequivocally child pornography (albeit from Henson’s early career) that Lawson-Menzies are trying to flog on behalf of their client. Once the image is lightened by increasing the exposure in phot software, a damning, sickening detail is revealed: the half-naked child is wearing a Disney t-shirt depicting Sylvestor the Cat and Tweetie Bird, one of the classic symbols of predator and prey if ever there was one.

    Tamara Winikoff (NAVA) keeps trying to whack it down with a big club but this putrifying old corpse just keeps floating to the surface!

    In spite of her fanciful pronouncements, one wonders how the Classification Board would manage to get around this particular image…

    1. Seems to me that *nothing* is going to be done. We’ve a debate in progress on the sister site to this one (http://australianopinion.com) and I could really do with some assistance!

      After a while you feel you are simple repeating yourself and the appeals to ‘freedom of expression’ are hard to counter – especially when the people you are arguing against seem more erudite than yourself. Or maybe they have a particular axe to grind with an agenda that stretches outside the simple arguments they are proposing… who really knows.

  21. Put him on the long list of child offenders & kiddy fiddlers, that are living in your neighborhood.

    I could take photos like that ( not that i would) The photography or “art” aspect is just an excuse, say its “art” jus like terrorist bombings are “religiously” inclined.

    This world is becoming a rediculous place..

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