How Brooke Shields differs from Bill Henson


Bill Henson and Richard Prince Comparison

Comparisons are already being made and lines are already being drawn between the Brooke Shields photograph at the Tate and the Bill Henson debacle last year. conservatives and media alike will be debating the differences are between the different cases and trying to make them both fit the same mould. Many readers here will remember my extensive and vehement coverage of the Henson controversy last year. Some may even be wondering at my stance on this one when I defended Henson so ardently last year.

There are many reasons why these two cases are so very different. nevertheless the gauntlet will be thrown and the aspersions will be cast so I would like to present my reasons why these two cases are so very very different.

Informed Consent
Bill Henson works closely with the model and their families. everything is legal, carefully planned and structured around the needs of the model. The model and families are educated in his processes and are fully aware of the situaton. The model in the photograph at the center of the controversy last year was interviewed and mentioned how she discussed it carefully with her family and friends, she considered all sides and weighed up how she would feel about it later down the track. her consent was critical to the creation of the artwork.

Gary Gross obtained the rights to photograph Brooke Shields and distribute the photograph from her mother. Judging by the legal battles and Brooke’s attempts to win back the rights and retrieve the negatives she was not involved in the consent process at all. she was probably not informed of her options or about the distribution rights. The photograph that was going to be displayed at the Tate is a different situation. the rights were purchased from Gross by Prince. there is no record (that I can find) of Shields consenting to the exchange of rights or the revisioning of the original. I would be very interested to hear about her level of involvement and her feelings about the Prince version and of the rights exchange.

The artworks in the controversial series by Bill Henson were seized because it was believed they were pornographic. the Classifications bureau ruled that only one warranted as much as a PG rating. These artworks are not sexualized images of minors. The original Gross photograph is very sexualized. Brooke has been made up and oiled to look like a tiny porn star. her pose is suggestive and I believe the intent of the work was to titillate and arouse. this is a sexualized image of a minor. if you are in doubt imagine an adult in the same situations, poses and lighting. The Prince photograph Spiritual America is in-between. it is sexualized but appears to condemn, rather than laud, the fact.

In this situation context is key. The Bill Henson artworks were displayed as a series in a solo exhibition. There were no other works to detract from the central display and message of the artworks. The original Gross photograph was paid for by playboy and published in playboy subsidiaries. Spiritual America was to be presented in a private room in an exhibition that had several suggestive and explicit images. Penetration, porn and more were presented in the same exhibition. this establishes a mindset and a context to the work. If the piece had been displayed in a series of photographs of celebrities or in an exhibiton condemning child prostitution and pornography then the context would have shifted. it would have been seen in a different light (although still contentious – it’s a very difficult piece)

This may be pure bias, but I believe it needs to be pointed out. one is a photograph of somebody elses work. it is a revision, not a complete original. it has elevated the original and added an emotional quality however the artisty in Bill Henson’s artworks is undeniable. from composition to lighting Bill Henson’s work is original, well crafted and achingly beautiful. the two are not comparable images.

8 thoughts on “How Brooke Shields differs from Bill Henson

  1. The context of the Tate, which has thousands of visitors a day, composed mostly of the general public and tourists, is also very different to Roslyn Oxley9, a small, out-of-the-way gallery for art-lovers.

  2. Bill Henson is banned from exhibiting naked child photos in Britain because they are in breach of child pornography legislation, which is PoCA 1978, Sexual Offences Act 2003, if anything Henson’s photos fall into a higher CPS/IWF tier. Henson was also trawling primary schools for potential ‘models’ without asking the permission of parents.

    • Sepian your comment “Henson was also trawling primary schools for potential ‘models’ without asking the permission of parents.” While technically true it skews the facts blatantly and with strong verbal prejudice.

      Yes Henson did go looking in the schools, did he talk to the kids first? No! He asked the school to contact the parents to see if the parents were comfortable with discussing the idea. If they said no that was it. If they said yes, he talked to them first to show and explain the details. When/if they were comfortable only then did he talk to the “model” who had final say only after he and their parents made sure they understood what it was they were doing.

      At least at the schools (where talent agency’s have scouted for years btw) they are in a secure environment monitored by adults. Alos he was accompanied by a staff member at all times.

      • Let us not forgot that schools are where 99% of perverted teachers are found, so, yeah, can you aid in helping us make our currently taboo desires more acceptable to the rest of Victorian society? Here, Susie’s got a nice rack going and she’s only 12, I’ll walk her home, we’ll stop for a milk shake, and I’ll steer her in the right erection, errr, direction. btw, “agency’s”? Idts.

  3. “The context of the Tate, which has thousands of visitors a day, composed mostly of the general public and tourists, is also very different to Roslyn Oxley9, a small, out-of-the-way gallery for art-lovers.”

    Context is irrelevant in Britain, other than to prejudice the court against ‘the artist’, there is no artistic defence in the United Kingdom.

    The Tate had incorporated a naked child photo within the context of a pornography exhibition, or an exhibition relating to pornography, or pornographers. So that is relevant, because it is damning, it doesn’t matter that it is a gallery, or ‘art’ the legislation specifically precludes the idea of ‘art’ getting in the way of a prosecution.

    The Tate was baiting the CPS to go forward with a prosecution, which may be a good reason not to oblige them, to lose, could open the door to Bill Henson, who is at the top of the list of PoCA 1978 characters or ‘artists’ against whom, a prohibition is thought desirable.

  4. Pingback: Bill Henson Photography Children | Fast Photos For You And Me

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