Bill Henson’s Nudes are officially not Porn


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The original piece that sparked the debate by Bill Henson
Photograph from the Age

A spokeswoman for Australia’s Classification Board, speaking on condition of anonymity under board policy, said six photos had been referred to them. The board gave five of them a G rating, and one a PG.

The PG photo — of a 13-year-old girl — was used on the cover of the invitation to the exhibit. It was believed to have caused the initial complaints that led to the police shutdown of the exhibit and investigation into possible obscenity charges against Henson.

The image “creates a viewing impact that is mild and justified by context … and is not sexualized to any degree,” the board found.

[From Australia board rules that debated nude teen portraits are not pornography – International Herald Tribune]

I am delighted that the censorship board has cleared Henson’s nude photographs. This strikes a blow for artists and freedom of expression everywhere. it is still uncertain whether the case will proceed or the exhibition will resume, however the key case for the seizure of the photographs and the legal cases pending hinge on the notion that these works were pornographic. as this notion has now been rather spectacularly thrown out, I doubt there is a legal leg to stand on. The newspapers are already reporting it as a victory and that the cases will be shut down.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd still defends his blandishments but states that he wont interfere with the decision, which is at least something. personally I couldn’t be happier at the Classification Board’s findings and I hope that we can see an end to this ridiculous saga. Henson has still not made a statement, which strikes me as a wise idea but I would love to know his feelings on the matter after the fact.

This debate has raised quite a lot of ugly arguments and discussions. more than that, it has raised some ugly feelings towards art in general and nudes specifically, it has seen galleries taking works off their walls for fear of persecution and to people being afraid to express their opinions. it became a case of pedophiles under the bed and an ugly sizing up of everyone debating the issues. Only art can take us to those places, that it can make us debate and shape our society, it can make us wonder, fear, and feel outrage. These decisions made today will shape the course of art and people’s perceptions of art for years to come.

Edit 3:45pm: This just in..

Photographer Bill Henson and the Sydney gallery which displayed his controversial pictures of naked children last month will not be prosecuted after police accepted there was no reasonable prospect of conviction.

Police today said they made the decision following advice from NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery.

Assistant Commissioner Catherine Burn said the matter was a “complex area of law” but police were obliged to launch their investigation after complaints from the public.

“Police did receive complaints and this has been a matter of significant public concern and debate. This is a complex area of law,” she said.

[From Henson in clear: prosecution scrapped – Arts – Entertainment – smh.com.au]

Edit: 6:21pm Henson has made a statement about the past two weeks. details here

9 thoughts on “Bill Henson’s Nudes are officially not Porn

  1. The Classification Board in Oz clears real child pornography all the time, that is one of the probs the FBI, NCMEC, IWF and Interpol have with Oz, the material (in question) is typical or as classic, I mean just look at it, the technique dates to the 1880s. If you compare it with the earliest glass plate pornography, it is a dead match. I was speaking to a Dutch pornographer, he thought it was child pornography, and if he isn’t an expert, I don’tt know who is.

    For a public domain example of the Classification Board being a bit open-minded, you had the recent example of naked 15 & 16 year olds in a tub surrounded by Moet bottles, that was non-sexual as well! So, the CB is all very tongue in cheek, the real test, is whether he can do it in London, Dublin, New York City etc. and the answer to that is no. Henson was supported by the prostitution and pornography industry in Oz throughout his trouble, and they assignerd their lobbyists to do the mredia and the CB.

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  3. Gregory, I notice you throwing around a whole lot of vague “facts” but you don’t seem to be back it up with any evidence (my science background needs evidence, you see). So if I might, a few more specific problems I had with some of your comments:

    1 – why is a guy who calls any woman a bitch automatically called misogynistic? It is a comment directed at a single person regarding her actions, not pertaining to her gender. Am I misogynistic if I call Hetty a crazy bitch? Am I being anti-male if I call a guy a bastard? If I call a guy a bitch, am I showing hatred and disdain for men or women?

    2 – I find your comparison of these photographs to some naughty 19th century pictures quite bizarre. The view of what is decent and indecent, rude or acceptable, has changes immensely in this time. It reminds me of an episode of Doctor Who I watched recently, where Rose was wearing some overall shorts and a t-shirt in Victorian times and kept being referred to as “naked” and “undressed”. Pictures that were considered dirty 100 years ago are now artistic. To see how times have changed, just look at the fashions worn by girls in their early teens. Do you honestly believe these are not titillating and suggestive outfits?

    3 – your use of “experts” is also a bit puzzling. There’s a running joke in the medical field that whatever symptom a patient turns up with, a specialist will always see it as being caused by something in their specialty; it’s a case of people looking for what they know. That’s why I wouldn’t trust an orthopedic surgeon to treat a case of post-natal depression – sure, he’s still a doctor, but that doesn’t mean he’s an expert on the matter (and is more likely to worry about the poor new mother’s bunions). Of course someone who works in pornography is going to view the works through their own filter; no, a Dutch pornographer isn’t necessarily an expert when it comes to what’s porn and what’s not.

    4 – Can you please give specific examples of the Classification Board’s passing of this child pornography? Since they pass this stuff “all the time” you must have a lot of examples.

    5 – why do you only use the UK as a basis of comparison? There is no real difference in the prop

    The fact you’re signing your comments with not just your name but also your title/ position/ whatever you want to call it suggests you’re definitely posting with a specific agenda. That doesn’t make for good or meaningful debate.

    Repeating your opinions ad nauseum doesn’t make them correct – wandering about Teh InterWebz posting similar comments on any Bill Henson-related blog post you stumble upon simply makes you look narrow-minded and dogmatic rather than intelligent and genuinely concerned.

  4. Hang on a minute …

    Greg …. if you have seen these photos, and you are in the UK …. does that mean you can be charged with child pornography?

    And do you have a job, for crying out loud? The time you spent hunting down all those blogs and the number of comments on each one …

  5. I’ve worked in the arts world since the early 1970s. Andy Warhol was controversial to many of us, Bill Henson completely is off the scale in comparison.

    His rep is entirely based on getting away with it on his home ground. It is a bit like a grunge musician only behaving badly in Seattle.

    ‘He cited a contempt of court case against broadcaster Derryn Hinch as evidence that the girl’s parents might not have that right either. “Hinch published the name of (a) … boy who was the victim of a sexual offence. He justified it by saying the parents had given him consent. But the court said they couldn’t consent.”‘

    http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2008/05/26/1211653938450.html?from=top5

    That’s the issue being referred to the United Nations. The precedent cited indicates that the only known examples of this CEDAW/UNCRC violation are exclusively associated with Australia. It is not recorded as having happened in any other developed country. So, that’s a first for Australia.

    The market for Henson’s genre of photography has had to move on-line or to Japan and Australia, or to countries lagging behind in child protection laws.

    Hamilton’s naked girl shots ruled ‘indecent’ | | guardian.co.uk Arts 23 Jun 2005 … The following correction was printed in the Guardian’s Corrections … David Hamilton – the photographer whose images hang in the US Library …
    arts.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,1512621,00.html – 43k – Cached – Similar pages – Note this

    I imagine Henson’s material has been found in child pornography investigations all over the world. He’s a pG/G in Australia. The police can only act if he turns up at Heathrow, Dulles or Milan, in the latter case they may arrest him for blackening the name of Caravaggio.

    None of this is top-secret, Alison Croggon would have been aware that some ( or all?) of the foreign galleries cited in her letter, were not prepared to touch Henson’s fetish photographs with a barge-pole.

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