March 2, 2014 § Leave a comment
The painter Balthasar Klossowski, who called himself Balthus, worked with the model Anna Wahli in Switzerland in the 1990s when she was 8 to 16 years of age and he was in his 80s. As he could no longer draw with pencils easily, his chosen method of study in his old age was to take Polaroid photographs of his subject. Decades before this time, Balthus had established a reputation for pushing the limits with his oil paintings, which often featured young girls undressed, in sexually suggestive poses, and/or in sexually charged situations. The Polaroids reveal that he often worked with live models rather than only from his imagination. The use of live nude child models was in fact the typical way the great painters through the ages had drafted their paintings. The photos of Anna included some where she was fully clothed but posing with her legs apart and some from later ages where her breasts were at least partially exposed because her robe was open [note 1].
New York City’s Gagosian Gallery was the first institution in the world to show any of the Polaroids to the general public. Only 155 of the photos, along with one of the unfinished paintings based on the photos, were on display at their exhibition “Balthus: the Last Studies” that ran from September 26, 2013 until January 18, 2014 without any legal intimidation from the American authorities.
Anna gave her permission for the photos showing her to be displayed [note 1]. Yet Balthus, who died in 2001, had never desired to display, publish, or sell the photos.
I saw that Anna’s right areola was partially bared in a photo from this show. Her chest looks flat in it.
Gagosian put some of the photos up for sale at the hefty price tag of $20,000 each. Who would pay such a crazy price? Photos of nude young people by Jock Sturges and Sally Mann are sometimes listed for a few thousand U.S. dollars, but this is way more than that for photos that don’t have the technical brilliance of Sturges’s and Mann’s works.
Some critics, including Der Zeit‘s Hanno Rauterberg, accused the late Balthus of having voyeuristically exploited Anna out of a “pedophilic” motivation to “sexualize” her [note 2]. Some also argued that the photos lack artistic value [note 3]. Do they? The Polaroid camera isn’t exactly well-known for art photography. However, David Hamilton [note 4] and Jacques Bourboulon [note 5] both photographed naked adolescent girls at times using a Polaroid camera, though it wasn’t their usual camera of choice.
The Museum Folkwang, a government-funded institution in Essen, Germany, had been preparing to show all 2,400+ of the Polaroid photos in an exhibit titled “Balthus: the Last Pictures” in April of 2014. Then they got cold feet in the wake of an article in the German newspaper Der Zeit [note 2]. Staff at Der Zeit went a step beyond just reporting on the museum’s plans by contacting the Essen Youth Office [note 6]. The museum staff then consulted with “various interested parties” to figure out if the exhibition would be permissible or not. The deputy chief officer Ulrich Engelen of the Essen Youth Office said, “We are not art experts, but we regularly check artistic works in relation to the protection of minors.” The office concluded that photos of Anna at the age of 8 were “not in the tolerance range”. So, in February 2014, the museum announced that the Balthus photos would not be displayed by them because it “could lead to unwanted legal consequences and a closing of the exhibition”.
As Rauterberg’s noted, analogous situations have recently been confronting art galleries in other countries. “All of a sudden,” he wrote, photographs of naked children in the art world “are considered taboo, even though they bothered hardly anyone for years.” [note 2] An example he gave is the decision of the Tate Gallery in England to remove Graham Ovenden’s naked little girl photos from public display both online and offline after Ovenden was alleged to be a pedophile and convicted of “sexual abuse” by an English court. (Ovenden denies he’s a pedophile or that he ever engaged in sexual activities with children.)
But in the case of Anna’s plentiful photo sessions with Balthus, there isn’t even an allegation that Balthus had sexually touched her. Rauterberg even admitted that nobody forced Anna to pose for Balthus and that her parents agreed that she could. To that he added, “And although she would often prefer to play with her friends, she went to him. There was always candy, and what was more important: There was always undivided admiration.” [note 2]
Steidl Verlag, a book publisher in Göttingen, Germany, was, or is, planning to publish two volumes showing every Polaroid photo of Anna by Balthus.
But at the present time, debate is underway in Germany about whether new limits should be placed on child nudity. A proposed bill would outlaw the commercial sale of nude child images [note 7]. Not only photographs, but sculptures and paintings and more besides, would fall under this prohibition. All of them. The radical idea is an overreaction to the investigation of a German politician in connection with the Azov Films “nudist” video prosecutions.
Update added March 22, 2014:
Steidl went ahead with publication of the book ”Balthus – The Last Studies” on March 15, 2014 and the book launch took place at the Librairie Polonaise in Paris by March 22. The book also includes at least one fully topless black-and-white photo of Anna while her breasts were small and budding and she looked maybe 12.
1. “Balthus’s Last Muse” by Ingrid Sischy in Vanity Fair, October 2013, http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2013/10/balthus-polaroids-photos-model
2. “Pädophiliedebatte in der Kunst: Die Bilder des Begehrens” by Hanno Rauterberg in Der Zeit, December 15, 2013, http://www.zeit.de/2013/50/fotografie-balthus-paedophilie-debatte/seite-1
3. “The Cultured and the Creepy: Balthus’s Parting Shots” by Thomas Micchelli in Hyperallergic, October 26, 2013, http://hyperallergic.com/90195/the-cultured-and-the-creepy-balthuss-parting-shots/ (“…he started using a Polaroid camera, badly. The images are fuzzy, repetitive and underexposed.”)
4. “Hamilton: Premiers Nus Polaroid” by David Hamilton in PHOTO, French edition, February 1981
5. “Des clichés un peu à part” by Jacques Bourboulon in Photo Magazine, April 1982
6. “Folkwang sagt Balthus-Schau nach Pädophilie-Verdacht ab” by Christina Wandt in Der Westen, February 4, 2014, http://www.derwesten.de/staedte/essen/folkwang-sagt-balthus-schau-nach-paedophilie-verdacht-ab-id8951121.html
7. “Germany slow to enact EU rule outlawing child porn” in DW.DE, February 28, 2014, http://www.dw.de/germany-slow-to-enact-eu-rule-outlawing-child-porn/a-17463002
December 24, 2013 § 5 Comments
The bi-annual Photokina: Weltmesse der Photographie (World Fair of Photography) opened on September 15, 1978 in Köln, West Germany. The French photographer Guy Bourdin had submitted a number of photos he wanted to exhibit in the Cultural Section but, in an example of non-governmental censorship, many of them were rejected by the fair’s organizers on the basis that they were “in bad taste”.
Most of the Bourdin’s rejected photos display naked adult women, with the exception of a photo of five topless prepubescent girls awake in bed with a sheet hiding their lower bodies. The white sheet is beautified with pink flower decorations, as are the white pillows. The wall behind them is solid pink.
Bourdin shot the girls’ photo in New York City in 1977 and it was published across two full pages in color in Vogue France in 1978. The photo as an expressive work didn’t violate either French or New York laws but the photographer illegally posed five girls in a small bedroom meant for at most two people, a point intentionally highlighted by showing the mandatory sign above the bed that read, in all capital letters, “OCCUPANCY BY MORE THAN 2 PERSONS IS DANGEROUS AND UNLAWFUL”.
Criticism #1: Some people interpret the photo as having something to do with pedophilia, implying that the lawbreaking girls are waiting unclothed in bed for an adult to sexually engage with them, also illegal.
Criticism #2: The girls are thought to be too heavily made up for their age as they’re wearing mascara and lipstick. Their hair is also stylized. The photo uncomfortably reminds one of the unnatural way some little girls look in American beauty pageants.
March 19, 2013 § 2 Comments
The Michigan art photographer Donald Raymond Croft II, whose female models included prepubescents, adolescents, and adults as old as 34, was arrested and charged with child pornography offenses in May 2012.
Under the nickname “Rebel Shooter”, Croft operated the public sites girls-r-cute.com, alli-model.com, rebelscsm.net, and rebel-galleries.com to sell his photography. Most of his models were fully dressed. One of the models under 18 (I don’t know which) was his daughter but the others were other parents’ girls whom he hired after they were referred to him.
Alli (called “Miss-Alli”) was Croft’s youngest model. Born in 2002, she began working with him when she was 4 or 5 years old, with the blessing of her mother but not of her father. In some of Alli’s photo sets, she wasn’t wearing panties under her sometimes skimpy, netted, or holey outfits, so portions of her buttocks and genitals occasionally were exposed. In others, she was naked and wearing body paint. Her photos triggered an in-depth investigation of Croft by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) in 2011.
A legal disclaimer Croft posted on January 1, 2008 stated “All of the work displayed on this site, in each supermodel’s portfolio, and in all contracted work comply with Title 18 of the US Code and THE MICHIGAN PENAL CODE 750.145c and (EXCERPT) Act 328 of 1931.” [note 1] The sponsorship page at rebel-galleries.com stated in 2011-2012: “All of the Rebel-Galleries are produced with the intent of achieving the highest level of artistic expression and beauty while adhering to all of the US Federal and State laws.” [note 2] But according to the Criminal Complaint against Croft, he produced, distributed, and possessed photographs constituting child pornography [note 3].
The “Neon Alli” gallery is referenced by name in the complaint as one that caught the eye of Detroit Postal Inspector Wylie R. Christopher and which had also been known to the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice. The previews to this gallery showed Alli “completely naked and covered with neon body paint.” This paint was black with streaks of green and orange.
Inspector Christopher attempted to purchase three galleries by money order — “Neon Nahla” (similar in nature to “Neon Alli”), “Miss Nahla Gallery 83″, and “Miss Alli 171″ — but Croft refused to ship them through the mail. The inspector followed up by ordering hundreds of photos that were transmitted electronically. One was “Alli Gallery 185 (40).jpg” showing Alli “wearing a white shirt, white thong underwear, and white high-heel boots. She was lying on the floor with her legs open and it appears she blew a kiss to the camera. Her genitals were partially visible in this picture.” [note 3] Another was “Miss Alli’s Save the Tigers” gallery, part of Croft’s Premier Art Gallery at rebel-galleries.com, where Alli wore no clothes while her body was seen from the front and rear but had orange and white body paint in patterns mimicking a tiger’s coloration along with an attached tiger tail and tiger ears. The photo “Alli Save The Tigers (55).jpg” shows her “sitting down with her legs open. [...] A portion of ‘Alli’s’ genitals are exposed in the photograph.” [note 3] Her chest and buttocks were also exposed in the tigers gallery but that has no legal consequences under U.S. federal law.
The inspector also obtained from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children 2,192 photos of Alli from other galleries, including a photo showing her “approximately 6 years old, standing, mostly naked, and wearing a white cowgirl hat and white cowgirl boots. Her genitals and breasts are clearly visible.” [note 3]
In February 2012 Croft deleted all preview photos of Alli from rebel-galleries.com, and the site went offline by May 10, 2012. His home had been searched by the USPIS on February 21, 2012 on which day he also granted an interview with an agent working for the USPIS. The complaint says “He was asked about photographs of ‘Miss Alli’ nude except for body paint. Croft stated he did not consider those photographs nude and stated her mother applied all the paint on Alli” [note 3]. A federal judge co-signed the criminal complaint against him on May 29, 2012.
In January 2013, Susan Clinton, the mother of Croft’s preteen model Nahla, born in September 2001, was charged with allowing her daughter to pose for alleged child pornography [note 4].
According to the complaint, “In one image !MG_92777.JPG, created on or about August 20, 2009, a pubescent [sic: actually prepubescent according to Scott Daugherty's article which is consistent with the typical development of 7-year-olds] girl, referred to as Nahla on Websites 1 and 2, was lying on a bed with a leg extended into the air. She was wearing white, see-through, fish-net lingerie. She is not wearing any undergarments and her naked genitals are completely exposed and visible to the camera.” [note 3]
Scott Daugherty’s article states Croft had told Clinton he was going to make a book with his photos as he considered them art.
Croft was inspired by other artists who worked with young girls, such as David Hamilton. The front cover of Hamilton’s nude girl book The Age of Innocence appeared behind Alli in a non-nude gallery where she wore a white shirt, black vest, and plaid skirt and posed on a carpeted floor.
Croft was an acquaintance of Dale Russell, who had also photographed nude girls, and told people he was aware of Russell’s “Maternal Love” photo set. The online interview alluded to in the complaint was conducted in the year 2010 between Croft and the interviewer nicknamed “Highvoltage” [note 5]. “Rebel Shooter” said in that interview, “I believe that Dale and I shared similar views on the first amendment and I know first hand that he didn’t have a very good attorney.”
Croft isn’t preferentially or exclusively attracted to little girls and has had one or more sexual relationships with adult women. There is no evidence that he ever had sexual contact with a child.
The case against Croft confirms that American law enforcement agencies keep current photographers of prepubescent child models under intense scrutiny and are looking for every slightest violation of the law. Parallel to the USPIS’s Azov Films cases involving nude young boys, the open-legged display of girl genitals causes the USPIS to pursue prosecution. Whether they are engaging in overreach, whether the post office should spend money on nude child investigations at a time when mounting losses are forcing cost-cutting measures like ending Saturday deliveries, and whether the law should stand depends on your point of view.
An article to follow will discuss the American photographer Ellen Brooks’s open-legged nudes of preteen girls and boys that have been on display in art galleries and books and have not been prosecuted.
3. Criminal Complaint by postal inspector Wylie R. Christopher filed May 29, 2012 in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, United States of America v. Donald Raymond Croft, http://www.archive.org/download/gov.uscourts.mied.270475/gov.uscourts.mied.270475.2.0.pdf
4. “Va. Beach woman charged with aiding in child porn” by Scott Daugherty in The Virginian-Pilot, January 18, 2013, http://hamptonroads.com/2013/01/va-beach-woman-charged-aiding-child-porn
5. “Everyone loves Miss Alli!” by High Voltage in Little Girl Heaven, October 29, 2010, http://web.archive.org/web/20101102170725/http://ligiheaven.com/?p=372
April 18, 2012 § 7 Comments
The largest controversy in child nude photography aside from pubic close-ups involves spread-legged young girls. An example is Barry Pringle’s black-and-white photograph of a flatchested, hairless preteen girl sitting spread-legged on a chair, facing forward, with one hand on an armrest and the other touching her necklace. She has no article of clothing on her body. The photo is included in Taschen’s book 20th Century Photography by Museum Ludwig Cologne, where she is displayed anonymously. That’s one of the most explicit photos of a little girl in a mainstream publication intended for a general audience.
Graham Ovenden’s black-and-white photo of 10-year-old Maud Hewes sitting with her legs wide apart resulted in a criminal prosecution against an American publisher. As Robert Atkins wrote in The Village Voice, “Hewes’s parted legs are the prosecutorial key to determining lasciviousness.” Publication was allowed to move forward only after the federal government dropped the case, having been convinced it wasn’t intended to be erotic [note 1].
These are supposedly “obscene” and “un-ladylike” postures for girls, and many people are offended by encountering the details of a girl’s labia and the entry to her vagina.
For some reason, however, an open-legged pose is more often accepted for boys than for girls, even when the boy’s penis and scrotum are entirely visible and sharply delineated, as long as the penis remains flaccid. This is a blatantly sexist cultural double-standard.
This doesn’t mean, however, that every government agrees that boys can pose for such photos. I’ve read about prosecutors who launched many cases in the United States, the Netherlands, and other countries against photos of boys who were merely nude without erections.
The Appendix to Karl Andersson’s book Gay Man’s Worst Friend – the Story of Destroyer Magazine (about a magazine that catered mainly to homosexual ephebophiles) includes a 1984 black-and-white photo by boy-lover Donald H. Mader of a young boy named Alexi. Alexi’s sitting outdoors with no clothes on and his legs wide open, exposing his entire penis. He’s got to be only in his early teens and only has a small amount of pubic hair. Mader was prosecuted three times by Dutch authorities over various photos he shot of young boys, most of which the authorities confiscated. This photo may very well have been one of those at question, but I don’t know. Maybe not, since it survived all his investigations, when others were stolen from him and never recovered.
Some of Mader’s other black-and-white photographs of adolescent boys made their way to the exhibition “Soft Core” at Historiska museet (the Museum of History) in Stockholm, Sweden in 1998 [note 2]. Three of the boys showed their genitals, but the poses weren’t risque. Even though they are tame photos, Aftonbladet published an article with quotes by several people condemning the exhibition [note 3]. The article provoked further opposition among the general public. Swedish police decided they couldn’t prosecute anybody for displaying the photos, but the exhibit was raided and destroyed by a mob of Swedish Neo-Nazis.
I’m not denying that males and females anatomically differ, though, and the notion that a female is “un-ladylike” when she opens her legs may be based on those differences:
So in fact an open posture is very ladylike in contexts related to sexuality and its consequences but not in some everyday situations. Still, I don’t see how that renders them an “unnatural pose” for girls, as United States federal courts routinely hold them to be.
Outside of Taschen’s book — which for some reason has received no prosecution or media attention — a Pringle-like photo would not be easy to distribute in Western countries if it showed a girl. Jock Sturges has said that he has to be very careful when he photographs nudist girls these days to ensure that their legs stay together since even though the girls and their parents are comfortable with their bodies and don’t perceive any pose or any body part as offensive, government prosecutors think otherwise. There have been court cases in the United States and other countries where girls’ photos have been successfully prosecuted while the subjects casually posed nude on the beach or sitting on a sofa simply because their legs were apart. This is the last relic of the old-fashioned thinking that used to consign photos of spread-eagle adult women to the status of “obscene” until cultural and political standards changed and magazines began to break through that barrier around 1968 [note 4].
But I can think of a multitude of appropriate situations where a girl would often want or need to open her legs:
A full body spread-leg pose presents more of the model’s character than a pubic close-up as it doesn’t force the viewer to concentrate on only the pubic part of the body when they can also view the child’s head, arms, hands, legs, feet, belly button, chest, and shoulders and sometimes the details of the setting surrounding her. This is certainly the case for Pringle’s photo which has a number of points of interest and fascinating patterns of light and dark.
Jean-Luc Moulène’s photo series “Les Filles d’Amsterdam”, on display in one or more public museums circa 2006-2009, effectively made the point that a full body portrait prevents a purely sexual representation. Although Moulène’s subjects were women prostitutes and they displayed their breasts and their shaved pubic areas while they sat spread-legged, their faces were simultaneously visible, forcing the viewer to realize that it’s a real person and not just a collection of attractive body parts.
Pringle was far from alone in accomplishing this goal. Photos by Bill Henson and Antônio Augusto de Araújo Lima that feature naked pubescent and prepubescent girls with their legs open resemble Moulène’s work as the subjects’ faces and pubic areas are simultaneously visible. Lima’s 10-year-old model “Chelda” posed sitting up just like Moulène’s models. Some of David Hamilton’s and Jacques Bourboulon’s young models also posed in that manner. However, some other Hamilton models covered their faces (with arms or masks) as the females did in Auguste Belloc’s nudes from the 1850s, and Hamilton also made some spread-legged pubic close-ups, mimicking Belloc in yet another way.
Using “sexual intent” as the basis for determining what is or isn’t acceptable doesn’t work because that would exclude quality photographs of young people by the likes of Jock Sturges and Donald Mader who have either had sexual relations with youth or have admitted to being sexually attracted to them. It’s a subjective test that allows somebody who denies any sexual interest in their model to get away with making the exact same type of image that someone who was honest could not. Prosecutors would still bother everybody and pursue pointless cases at considerable expense even in instances where the model insists no harm was done to her.
1. “Lolita Syndrome” by Robert Atkins in The Village Voice, April 14, 1992, http://www.robertatkins.net/beta/shift/culture/censorship/kiddie.html
2. “Det heliga barnet” by Jens Liljestrand in Fotografisk Tidskrift, Nr. 1, 2011, translated into English as “The Sacred Child” at http://scienceblogs.com/aardvarchaeology/2011/04/is_child_porn_in_the_eye_of_th.php
3. “Konst – eller barnporr?” by Anders Johansson in Aftonbladet, May 31, 1998, http://wwwc.aftonbladet.se/nyheter/9805/31/konst.html
4. The most common magazines like Playboy waited several more years to do it and once they did they competed with each other to see who could show pubic areas most explicitly, with Playboy warring with the likes of Penthouse, Hustler, and Club.
July 9, 2011 § 3 Comments
One of the most controversial kinds of depictions of nude children is the pubic area close-up. This is only rarely encountered in the mainstream arts.
Sally Mann is an American photographer whose book Immediate Family sparked controversy for its black-and-white photos of her own kids in the nude. Photos from this series, including some not included in the book, have been shown in art galleries. From November 29, 2007 to January 12, 2008 the Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York City showed a Sally Mann photo titled “Equivalent #2, Possum Tail” which she shot in 1985 and it’s still displayed at their website houkgallery.com. One print out of the 25 made is currently for sale from the Greg Kucera Gallery in Seattle, Washington for the exhorbitant price of 4,500 U.S. dollars(!). The photo shows her unclothed little daughter lying flat on her back while the possum tail rests on her stomach and her prepubescent genital cleft is in the middle of the image. Her body was only photographed from the area from her stomach to her upper legs. On either side of her body there’s only darkness. One cannot help but notice her pubic area.
The Spanish actress Dafne Fernández, whose birthdate is March 31, 1985, has a scene in the Spanish film Resultado Final that similarly pushes the limits of acceptability. Released in 1998, it was reportedly filmed in 1997, so Fernández was only 11 or 12 at the time, and her body has typical features of a prepubescent of that age including her proportions, her hairlessness around her crotch, and her flat chest. Most of the film shows her character, María José, at older ages. Fernández is given only about a minute and a half of screen time to illustrate Maria’s childhood days, yet packed into that brief time she is given a topless scene where she’s clad only in panties as well as a bath scene that has a moment where she stands displaying her bare, wet body at close range – only from the upper half of her upper legs to some of the skin immediately north of her pubic mound but without her belly button in the frame. Her genital cleft is one of the few things that can be seen at that time. Once again, it’s as if the viewer is being asked to notice a child’s pubic area. Why would a director and camera operator do that?
Incidentally, Resultado Final also includes two heterosexual sex scenes showing Maria as an adult woman, so this isn’t entirely a non-sexual film.
In a previous blog entry I discussed a scene in the Brazilian film Eu Me Lembro that zooms in on an 11-year-old boy’s erect penis. Unlike the two examples above, Eu Me Lembro depicts a child’s genitals for an overtly sexual reason – as part of a masturbation scene.
For various reasons, the emphasis on the vulva or penis of a child is considered harmful by making the child into a sexual object. It’s certainly depersonalizing to an extent as the child’s face is not visible in this kind of shot. But when the exact same body part is exposed when the child’s full figure is visible somehow the image is considered less vulgar. How big a deal should a close-up really be considered?