A Tale of Two Americans

October 30, 2010 § 2 Comments

Today’s commentary compares the fates of two professional naturist photographers from the United States: Jock Sturges and Dale Russell. Only one has been convicted of a crime, and this entry asks why.

Jock Sturges has been active in nude photography since the 1970s and has developed long-lasting friendships with naturist families. He is fond of using traditional cameras, and for a long time worked exclusively in black and white, only relatively recently adding color to his portfolio. I’m impressed with much of what I’ve seen from him, and his work can be compared favorably with another naturist photographer, Mona Kuhn.

But questions have dogged Sturges for decades and still remain.

Some of these questions involve why Sturges frequently portrays nude girls under the age of 18. A large portion of his models have been pre-pubescent girls, and the main bulk of the others have been pubescent and post-pubescent girls. Another question is why his female subjects tend to be fair-skinned with slender body types rather than more diverse kinds of females. Finally, some ask why there are so few males in his photographs.

Sturges doesn’t like to talk about his sexual proclivities or the legal controversies from his past. However, because of ongoing prosecutions of other naturist and art photographers, I feel compelled to raise some of those facts at this time.

The first specific Sturges photo I’d like to discuss is one of many featuring Marine, a French adolescent girl, in 1989. The photo is outside of a naturist or family context, showing her reclined sideways on a bed with no clothes on. Although the focus isn’t on her pubic region, and one person I spoke with correctly noted that the photo draws attention to her head, her legs are apart and her pubic hair and genitals are exposed.

I found this photo of Marine at eBay.com in March 2009 when Paul Cava Fine Art of Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania had a print of it for sale under the item number 290301472065. The same photo was auctioned by the same art dealer in July 2009 under the item number 290332261347. Both auctions showed a scan of the image.

Since December 21, 2007 this photo has also been listed for sale by Thomas V. Meyer Fine Art of San Francisco, California at Artprice.com.

We know Marine was a minor (no older than 16 and no younger than 14) in 1989 when the photo was made because Sturges said she was 20 at the time of his interview with David Steinberg on May 25, 1994 [note 1].

In the federal case United States v. Dost (1986), the judge for the District Court for the Southern District of California suggested six factors to be considered when pondering whether a photograph of a minor is lascivious and thereby illegal.

One was whether the minor was “in a place or pose generally associated with sexual activity”. A bed is a place where sex frequently occurs. Check one.

Another was “whether the child is depicted in an unnatural pose”. The pose Marine held is not usual for nude photos of minors usually held to be legal in the United States. It’s unnatural in that she holds her left foot down with her left hand and specifically poses in an awkward manner for the camera, angling her body so that her pubic area faces the viewer and is graphically exposed between open legs, certainly not a position a girl would be in if she’s just relaxing. Check two.

The judge also suggested a photo could be lascivious if it “suggests… a willingness to engage in sexual activity”. This is very subjective indeed, but she’s looking into the camera and what is her message to the viewer? Is she bored? Is she waiting for something? Another factor is “whether the visual depiction is intended or designed to elicit a sexual response in the viewer”. Who can say why her legs are open?

Subjectiveness aside, the photo certainly meets two specialized Dost criteria (on a bed, with spread legs) in addition to the presence of nudity.

I found a second photo Sturges made that seems to display a “lascivious” pose in my opinion. It’s a pre-pubescent girl posing full-frontally nude with wide open legs. Regrettably, I don’t know her name or age or the year it was made, or whether it’s been featured in any art galleries or published portfolios, but I can tell you it’s the second photo in the slideshow at the start of Jennifer Montgomery’s 1995 film “Art for Teachers of Children”. (More about Montgomery below.)

In 1990, Sturges had to contend with an FBI case accusing him of having created lascivious photos of pre-pubescent and post-pubescent girls. The FBI told the public that Sturges “vividly displayed” the genitals of some of the pre-pubescent girls [note 2].

The photos of Marine and the slideshow girl in fact do vividly display their genitals in poses that the FBI aggressively pursues most of the time, so I’m not surprised Sturges was charged with child porn. I am, however, surprised that I didn’t find discussions of these two photos in the articles about Sturges, as they are widely disseminated.

Sturges also admits he’s more careful about how he photographs girls these days. Here’s something he said in 1994:

“There are photographs that I don’t take now, that I previously would have taken without any thought at all as to any misinterpretations. The truth is that people who are naturists, who are used to being without clothes, are unselfconscious about how they sit around, how they throw themselves down on the ground, how they sit in a chair, how they stand. They don’t think about it; it’s not an issue. Before, I’d photograph anything. I didn’t think there was anything more or less obscene about any part of the body. Now I realize that there are certain postures and angles that make people see red, which are evidence of original sin or something, and I avoid that. But it’s difficult. At one point, Maia [Sturges’s wife] found me crossing legs, avoiding angles, giving instructions which inadvertently were instructing young people that some aspect of what they were doing, some aspect of who they were, was inherently profane.” [note 1]

Sturges has claimed, “…I don’t believe I’m guilty of any crimes…” [note 1]

Oh really? How about the times you had sexual intercourse with Jennifer Montgomery when she was 14 and you were her 28-year-old counselor in a boarding school dorm? That’s called statutory rape and it was illegal then, as now, in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and it was in one of those states where you had this affair with Montgomery, an affair she made public knowledge in 1995 and you admitted to in an interview with J.R. Moehringer [note 3]. (The age of consent in Massachusetts and New Hampshire has been 16 for a long time. Montgomery’s film is a thinly-veiled account of her affair with Sturges.)

Dale E. Russell is another American professional photographer of nude young girls and boys. “Photos By Dale” is how he marketed his photography business to the general public.

“Photos by Dale is located in Indianapolis, IN 46206 specializing in abstract, advertising, architecture, art, casual, commercial, digital, documentary, fashion, fine art, glamour, industrial, journalism, other, performance, portrait, print, runway, sport, stock and swimwear. Photos by Dale’s level of experience is Professional / Very Experienced.” [note 4]

Russell’s “Maternal Love” black and white art photo series, made before 2008, showed a nude pregnant woman posing with a nude pre-pubescent girl named “E”. Both were standing in perfectly innocent poses and nothing sexual was implied by the photos. He distributed these photos as “photoartguy” at PBase.com but I don’t know if he ever sold them. I assume they were shot at the request of the woman and that he was compensated by her or her husband.

A sub-component of his business was “Child Web Models”, featuring fully dressed young girls posing on the Internet. He established sites for two of his daughters under the stage names “Kasey” and “October” and some other sites for unrelated girls. Members of the general public were invited to financially support the girls by subscribing to their sites.

Russell and his three daughters participated in the naturist lifestyle by going without clothes in many situations. He photographed the girls and a young boy they befriended in various outdoor and indoor settings [note 5]. The locations included a nude beach, a tower at the nude beach, and a school gymnasium. Two of his daughters performed gymnastics (jumping, hanging, etc.), exercised on the mat, and did climbing and weight training in photographs and videos without clothes when they were 10 and 11 years old. The images lack a sexual context. I think nude gymnastics is perfectly legitimate and we mustn’t forget that the ancient Greeks performed gymnastics and other sports in the nude. One other time he photographed one of his preteen daughters waking up naked in bed, standing up, and getting dressed, again an innocent context in a visual narrative form.

However, in some of the images, Russell – like Sturges – showed the girls’ genitals while their legs were open.

That fact is assuredly why the federal government (Assistant U.S. Attorneys Gayle L. Helart and A. Brant Cook) launched a child porn production case against Russell in 2009. The charges related to four series of photos starring two of his daughters. Russell argued that they are artistic and not pornographic in nature. The government used the two girls’ “Child Web Models” modeling websites against him, too. The trial was heard by a jury that convicted him of the charges, and the judge sentenced him to 38 years in prison [note 6].

Why did this happen to Russell but not Sturges? Russell isn’t accused of sex with any underage person, unlike Sturges, and I think that’s an important distinction to make when we attribute motive to photography. During Russell’s three years in Mexico, he used the image sharing service Imgsrc.ru to upload naturist photos of children scanned from old naturist magazines like “Health and Efficiency” to his account “gymnastdude” (and he wrote his real name in his profile there). He seems to have a lot of interest in naturist photos and naturism as a lifestyle, just like Sturges does. Were Russell’s own photos not deemed to be art because he used digital cameras and placed his works online rather than in printed portfolios? Would it have helped if he had more people testify at his trial or submit friends of the court briefs? Sturges had considerable public support, unlike Russell.

I don’t know if Russell is attempting to appeal his conviction. If anybody has more information, please leave a comment.

In ICE’s press release, Russell was ridiculed by the phrase “the pretense they were modeling”, as if his daughters weren’t really modeling. I think it was as real as any of Sturges’s naturist shoots and as real as any fashion magazine shoot.

I can’t be totally sure that Russell’s intentions were always “pure”, but I do know that Sturges admitted that he’s not “absolutely artistically pure” and that there’s “an erotic aspect” in his photography [note 1] so I hardly think monastic purity should be a requirement.

Why hasn’t Sturges lobbied or advocated for the removal of legal obstacles to nude photography? These obstacles include Title 18 U.S.C. 2252, 2256, and 2257 that restrict what kinds of nude photos of minors can be made, mandate record-keeping requirements for “lascivious” (read: erotic) nudity with adult models, and bar parents from consenting to the manufacture of “lascivious” pictures of their children. These statutes, and those in the individual states, have a chilling effect on the nude photography of young people because few photographers are willing to risk making photos of naked children if there’s a chance a government attorney will interpret their work as sexual in any way. It must also be why nearly all naturist videos of minors these days are made in Europe even while they’re sold in the United States.

I haven’t seen Sturges’s publisher, the Aperture Foundation, or his art galleries make lobbying efforts either. Exactly twenty years ago, in the fall of 1990, Aperture published an interesting magazine issue whose cover read “The Body in Question” and there were intelligent articles about child nudity in it. I’d like to see something much more recent from them.

Nor has Sturges done enough to urge the lowering of the age of consent to 14, if he really believes people like himself should be let off the hook for consensual sex with 14-year-olds.

He’s talked about the issue, though. In his 1994 interview with David Steinberg, he said, “Very naturally, the ages of consent in Europe are vastly lower than they are here, in recognition of the fact that when you have people involved with sexuality you may as well make it legal so you can better deal with them about it, so they’ll talk to you and you can educate them.” [note 1] Fair enough. Where is some action to back up the talk?

Montgomery doesn’t want Sturges convicted of statutory rape, though, and maybe – just maybe – the statute of limitations has expired on this crime. But statutory rape charges can be brought against an individual even if the minor doesn’t want charges, because the law doesn’t recognize the minor’s right to consent.

Who is the “predator”? According to ICE it’s Russell. Perhaps some of you after reading this will think it’s Sturges (or Larry Clark, if you read the first blog entry).

Does Russell’s 38-year prison term even fit the so-called crime? Many rapists, murderers, burglars, scammers, and other terrible people get shorter sentences. Probably the most absurd example I heard of was a New York man who raped a 15-year-old girl and forced two other girls (15 and 16) to sexually interact with him but he got no prison term whatsoever [note 7].

It would be nice if someday there’s a real debate over these matters and a legislator who’s willing to go out on a limb and propose modifications to the laws governing the age of consent and the nude photography of minors. Recent state-level adjustments that help adolescents avoid heavy penalties for nude self-portraits, and Indiana’s recent institution of an age of consent exception for a similar-aged perpetrator, are only stop-gap measures that avoid the larger issues.

1. “Interview with Jock Sturges, May 25, 1994” by David Steinberg, http://www.nearbycafe.com/loveandlust/steinberg/erotic/essays/interview.html
2. “Art and ‘Perversion’: Censoring Images of Nude Children” by Lawrence A. Stanley in Art Journal, Winter 1991.
3. “Child Porn Fight Focuses on 2 Photographers’ Books” by J.R. Moehringer in the Los Angeles Times, March 8, 1998.
4. http://www.onetalentsource.com/portfolio/14519/
5. Some of these photos were discussed in a number of child modeling blogs and forums including Oinkie.com, PlaytoyMagazine.com, and 12Chan.org.
6. “Indiana man sentenced to 38 years in prison for producing child pornography” by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, May 17, 2010, http://www.ice.gov/pi/nr/1005/100517indianapolis2.htm
7. “A predator walks: Letting child rapist off without prison time is an outrage in every way”, an editorial in the New York Daily News, October 1, 2010, http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2010/10/01/2010-10-01_a_predator_walks.html

Update added December 14, 2011:

I have learned that Dale Russell appealed his conviction in court on February 7, 2011, and lost on November 10, 2011 when the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed his child pornography conviction and did not alter the length of his sentence [note 8].

It also turns out that during the first trial, Dale’s older daughter had made a shocking claim that she had been molested by her father a year or two before he shot the nude photos of her. If she is telling the truth, I cannot defend his action, as I am totally against incest. I don’t understand why she didn’t make her claim from the outset. The November 10th decision tells us that “Jane Doe 1 had not disclosed these incidents until three weeks before Russell’s trial was scheduled to begin; until that time, she had denied repeatedly that her father had ever touched her inappropriately.” So she changed her story. On the stand, during cross-examination, Dale denied having touched her sexually at any time, while the daughter reiterated her claim that he had. Dale’s defense team had tried to squelch her testimony, arguing that the acts “were not probative of any material fact, were remote in time and dissimilar in nature to the charged offenses and their prejudicial impact far outweighed any arguable probative value.” The government, however, argued that “[p]rior sexual contacts with [Jane Doe 1] show his sexual attraction to her, and also show a sexual purpose, therefore, in taking the photographs.”

The Seventh Circuit’s decision, determined by three judges and authored by U.S. District Judge Joan B. Gottschall, provides much detail. It explains that the “lascivious” photos at issue included some of the bedroom photos as well as some of the gymnastics photos, plus two bathroom photos, and that indeed her legs were apart in them.

While Dale argued the photos reflected the nudist lifestyle, the circuit ruled that Dale’s photos had lascivious intent and were made to appeal to the sexual interests of other viewers. Part of the decision reads, “None of the charged photographs were taken at any of the clothing-optional resorts that Russell and his second wife visited with their children, nor did the defense claim that any of those photographs were the sort of candid snapshots of a family member that one might expect to find among the photos of a family that engages in nudism. All of the charged photographs were staged photographs that the defendant directed to some degree, and both girls testified that they would not have been nude but for purposes of the photography sessions Russell initiated.”

The circuit also rejected Dale’s attempt to compare his photos to the works of others. Dale owned some books showing nude children and wanted the court to study them. But the circuit cited the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case New York v. Ferber to remind us that “Images of children need not be obscene in order to qualify as lascivious” and that therefore Dale’s claim that the photos carry “a legitimate artistic purpose and value” does not overrule considerations of lasciviousness. The circuit added, “Moreover, as the district court pointed out, simply because other works featuring nude photographs of children have been published does not necessarily mean that those photographs are not lascivious. R. 177 at 132–33.” In other words, those Jock Sturges photos I mentioned which have not been the subject of previous court cases could in fact be deemed lascivious by a court of law even though they have been printed and are in commercial circulation. Now that Dale’s molestation of one of his daughters was tied into the nude photography sessions he made of her, even though the molestation and the photography did not occur at the same time, the same tie-in could be done with Jock Sturges in relation to Jock’s confessed sexual liaison with a 14-year-old girl.

8. United States v. Russell, No. 10-2259, United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1584950.html

A Tale of Two Brazilians

October 10, 2010 § 2 Comments

This is a commentary concerning the works and fates of two Brazilian artists. Only one of them is well known in his native land. Only one of them is still free and lacking a criminal record in relation to what they did.

Read on through the end, where I’ll explain the tie-in to the United States: American film festivals and an American university have exhibited one of these works. This fact has not yet received media attention.

But first, let’s look at the situation in Brazil itself.

Brazil is usually serious about prosecuting child pornography, according to news reports. Since 1990 they’ve had a rather strict definition of what child pornography means. It’s forbidden to show a minor’s genitals in an erotic manner and it’s forbidden to show a minor in a sexual act. Minor is defined as somebody under the age of 18 for pornography but under 14 for unfilmed sexual activity.

Eu Me Lembro, written and directed by the Brazilian native Edgard Navarro, is a coming-of-age story in celluloid form. It was first introduced to an audience in December 2005 at the Brazilia Festival of Brazilian Cinema and reached general Brazilian theaters in September of the following year.

The main character is a young fellow named Guiga. The film shows him growing up in Brazil in the 1950s and 1960s.

As would be expected, Guiga develops sexual urges like any normal boy. The difference between this film and other coming-of-age films is that it shows what most others merely hint at.

The “plot keywords” for the film at the Internet Movie Database include “Boy Nudity”, “Child Nudity”, “Erection”, “Masturbation”, “Oral Sex”, and “Sex With Child” [note 1].

Victor Porfírio is the Brazilian actor who plays Guiga at the age of 11 and he looks about that age. We can say with confidence that he was a prepubescent preteen during the filming.

Rare Film Finder, an Internet resource for films of all sorts featuring actors and actresses under 18, tells us the film shows…

“Two cases of Guiga masturbating, first fully clothes and then naked in the shower. Includes shots of his erect penis in the first case, hand stroking the penis in the other case.” [note 2]

I watched this and can confirm the above description is accurate. Porfírio masturbates for real both times, although in the first instance (a bedroom scene) the activity is obscured rather than graphically presented.

After he’s finished masturbating the first time, the camera shows his erect penis (which is immature and not surrounded by any pubic hair). This even includes a zoomed-in shot that focuses the viewer’s attention on only that one thing.

No semen is visible. He couldn’t ejaculate because he’s still prepubescent.

In the scene that comes next, Porfírio is standing in a shower. The camera actually shows him jerking his penis with his hand. His scrotum is completely exposed to the camera and some of his penis is as well.

An ordinary Brazilian who watched the film thought “Guiga’s offbeat behavior in his early childhood makes the best part of the film: a candid and very funny account of early sexuality (including masturbation scenes that may startle people who pretend Freud never existed and believe children are asexual)” [note 3].

If that’s shocking enough, wait until you hear about what William Santos does!

Santos plays another male character (seemingly an adolescent). This time it isn’t about self-pleasure but about male-female interaction. Rare Film Finder says…

“An even younger boy peeks through a window to watch where Zeca is being masturbated by yet another woman, but not until after we see Zeca fondle & suck (presumably, his head obscures the actual act) her breast. Includes close-up shot of her hand on his genitals.” [note 2]

This again is exactly what is shown. His penis is held by the woman.

There isn’t a body double in any of the 3 scenes I just described. The camera pans the boys’ bodies in continuous shots between their faces and genitals.

To sum up, Navarro’s film represents actual child pornography in three respects: an erection, masturbation, and fondling by an adult.

Antônio Augusto de Araújo Lima, another Brazilian, along with four of his associates, met a different fate. A dentist by trade, Lima supplemented his income by starting a photography business featuring preteen and adolescent girls between the ages of 10 and 15 and selling his works to the American model agencies Willey Studio and Flower Studios [note 4]. By all accounts, his photos were bright and cheerful and at least semi-professional in their appearance.

For the general public, Lima offered photos of the girls fully dressed in various attire. Individual customers, however, could custom order nude photos of the girls and suggest poses for a high price. Nude photo shoots took place in 2004 and 2005 with “Tropical Beauties” with stage names like “Emmie”, “Skye”, “Alicia”, and “Chelda”. One of Lima’s models said she and the other models had been asked to open their blouses and take off their shorts and skirts [note 5]. The mother of a 10-year-old girl had been told the agency made only typical commercial photographs but that no parents were allowed on the set during the photo shoots [note 5].

Lima’s custom nude sets showed the girls in sexually suggestive poses. Allegedly, some other photos found in Lima’s possession showed unspecified sexual acts between adult men and young girls and between adult women and young girls [notes 6,7].

In May 2007, Lima was arrested for violating article 241 of the Brazilian Criminal Code (the Statute of the Infant and of the Adolescent), the law that prohibits Brazilians from making and publishing pornography showing an individual under the legal age. He was also accused of rape (article 213) and aiding in prostitution (article 228).

So let’s review. Navarro and Lima manufactured their similar imagery in the same country in the same timeframe with the same age group of subjects. That means they were governed by the same law, at least in theory. The only differences were that they worked with the opposite genders and different mediums of expression (motion pictures versus still photography).

Anyone who thinks this stuff is harmful yet claims boys need less governmental “protection” than girls is a sexist. Aren’t Victor Porfírio and William Santos “victims” just as much as Lima’s models?

I call foul.

As I said, Navarro’s Eu Me Lembro has been shown to the public several times in the United States. It hasn’t been commercially released in too many countries, but that’s irrelevant to the point I’m trying to make.

The film was shown uncensored at several American festivals: the 2007 Palm Springs International Film Festival (Palm Springs, California), the 2007 Chicago Latino Film Festival (Chicago, Illinois), and the 2007 Cine Fest Petrobras Brasil (New York, New York).

The Palm Springs venue was its U.S. premiere. On January 11 and 13, 2007 audiences at the Palm Springs Regal 9 watched what the festival billed as “Edgard Navarro’s magical portrait of boy growing up in Brazil from the ’50s to ’70s captures his changing times, from Catholic repression and teen lust, to civil rights and the hippie movement…” [note 8]

Sylvia Ebreau, the film’s producer, attended the Palm Springs exhibition [note 8].

Beyond the festivals, Eu Me Lembro was shown at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh on April 23, 2007. Five days before the showing, Jennifer Graff, Director of the university’s Office of International Education, and Associate Professor Catherine M. Bryan of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures wrote to members of the listserv international@lists.uwosh.edu:

You are invited to the screening of Brazilian film “Eu me lembro” (“I Remember”) and following, a discussion with its writer and director, Edgard Navarro

[…] At the 38th Festival of Brazilian Cinema held in Brasilia, the film won numerous awards this year including: Best Film, Best Director, Best Script, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Critics’ Prize.

It was an Official Selection at the Montreal World Film Festival and, this week, will be included in the Chicago Latino Film Festival.

Edgard Navarro will take a short break from the festival in Chicago to come up to UW Oshkosh to show his film for us and talk to us about it afterward. [note 9]

Jorge Moreira of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures was listed as the contact point. This department, along with the Spanish Club, were the sponsors of “this exciting event” [note 9].

The listserv message also contained a warning:

“Please note: Viewer discretion is advised. This film is not intended for minors.” [note 9]

That’s hypocritical considering it shows pornographic scenes with actual minors.

Maybe Larry Clark (a photographer of teenagers) is right that underage porn should be seen by underage people. In an interview Le Monde published on October 2, 2010, Clark said this kind of “censorship is an attack by adults against teenagers. It’s one way to tell them: ‘[…] We don’t want you to go into a museum to look at art that talks about you and what is happening to you’.” [note 10] Clark suggested that maybe adults, rather than minors, should be the ones barred from visiting his pornographic exhibition at a museum in Paris [note 11].

The French politician Étienne Pinte spoke on Canal Plus of how it’s “regrettable that today’s teens cannot go see” Clark’s exhibition since sexuality is part of adolescence “today more than yesterday, obviously.” (translated from the French) [note 12]

The American festivals and university discussed above broke federal and state laws on what’s permitted to be advertised, exhibited, transported, and possessed. The federal laws are part of Title 18 of the criminal code, and every state has its own statutes of similar character.

When it comes to unsimulated masturbating and sexual touching with real children, federal law and most state laws provide no exemptions for films and no loopholes for artistic merit or consensual acting for pay (a film is still commercial exploitation). Since 1984, federal law makes it a strict liability offense.

Underage erections are also illegal in most circumstances.

California exempts MPAA-rated films, but Eu Me Lembro isn’t rated by the MPAA.

The 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case New York v. Ferber ruled that images of boys under 16 masturbating could be outlawed. (The federal age was later statutorily raised to 18.)

It’s outrageous that this film was shown in the United States while young boys and girls and their friends get arrested for lewd, self-shot, non-commercial photos and videos showing themselves nude and masturbating.

Navarro and Ebreau were actually invited to attend showings of their child porn film and not arrested, while Lima and his partners probably languish in jail.

The festivals and university either need to be held accountable for breaking the law or, perhaps preferably, the law needs to be changed to officially allow some kinds of consensual porn showing people of the ages involved in the film (11 and older). Navarro and Clark have lots of defenders in the art and political worlds. Will these people lobby their governments for more permissiveness in legislation?

Update added March 4, 2013:

The announcement Sylvia Abreu, director of Truque Produtora de Cinema, wrote for Mostra do Filme Livre 2012‘s showings of Eu Me Lembro in March-April 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, and Sao Paolo split the cast listing between adults (the first part of “Elenco”) and minors (the subsection “ELENCO INFANTO-JUVENIL”). Both Victor Porfírio and William Santos are listed in the latter category [note 13], confirming that Santos was under 18, as seemed obvious from his physical appearance.

The announcement also says “Classificação Indicativa: 16 anos” meaning “Rating System: 16 years old”. Why can’t 11 year olds watch the film? That’s the age Porfírio was.

1. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0492967/keywords
2. http://www.rarefilmfinder.com/showfilm.php?id=20887 [this text was displayed to all until September 2011 but now it only shows for members who log into their site with a username and password]
3. “Portrait of an artist…and a generation” by debblyst, November 3, 2006, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0492967/usercomments
4. “Willey Studios/ Agency Modeling photographer busted”, August 12, 2007, http://www.oinkie.com/?cat=13
5. “Pedofilia na internet” by Alessandro Torres in Jornal Hoje, August 14, 2007, http://jornalhoje.globo.com/JHoje/0,19125,VJS0-3076-20070814-296074,00.html
6. “Dentista vai depor e fica preso” by Nathália Lobo in Diário do Nordeste, May 29, 2007, http://diariodonordeste.globo.com/materia.asp?codigo=437913
7. “Site pornográfico ainda no ar” in Diário do Nordeste, June 7, 2007, http://diariodonordeste.globo.com/materia.asp?codigo=440481
8. http://www.psfilmfest.org/festival/film/detail.aspx?id=11922&fid=29
9. http://lists.uwosh.edu/archives/international/mh/msg00450.html
10. “Censorship claims hit Larry Clark exhibition in Paris” by Olivier Laurent in British Journal of Photography, October 8, 2010, http://www.bjp-online.com/british-journal-of-photography/news/1741350/censorship-claims-hit-larry-clark-exhibition-paris
11. “Photographer Larry Clark attacks age limit on his Paris show” by Agence France-Presse (AFP), October 2, 2010, http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5i7w_7iXeHidwk0RqBnXieKR1gT0A?docId=CNG.269d5b4d24611193b334b94159602133.d41
12. “Exposition Larry Clark : retour sur une polémique” in Le Monde, October 8, 2010, http://www.lemonde.fr/culture/article/2010/10/08/exposition-larry-clark-retour-sur-une-polemique_1421930_3246.html
13. http://mostradofilmelivre.com/12/info.php?c=5477

Larry Clark’s Exhibition “Kiss The Past Hello” Opens Today in France

October 8, 2010 § 2 Comments

The opening of a new retrospective on Larry Clark’s decades of photographic work at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in France on October 8, 2010 rekindled controversies over both the content on display and who should be allowed to see it [notes 1,2,3,4,5].

The decision was made to allow all of Clark’s photos – including explicit ones from “Tulsa” and “Teenage Lust” – to be displayed uncensored, but only on view by adults due to their pornographic nature.

Larry Clark is an American citizen and lives in New York. This means his work is restricted, at least in theory, by U.S. federal law and by New York state law.

A precedent-setting U.S. Supreme Court case [note 6] decided that pornography depicting minors was not constitutionally protected free speech and could be prohibited even if it had artistic, educational, medical, or other value. The context (an art show, a booklet for teens, a documentary film, or a porn magazine) is irrelevant because the image itself is contraband. That’s why pornographic images of children and adolescents in Will McBride’s sex education book “Show Me!” were removed from retail circulation by its publisher, St. Martin’s Press, shortly after the decision was handed down.

The court upheld New York’s law against showing lewd exhibitions of the genitals, masturbation, and sexual interaction when one or more of the subjects is under the age of 16. New York’s age limit remains 16, but federal law established the age limit of 18 in 1984. Current French law also holds an age limit of 18.

These laws make no exception for works that were made prior to the passage or modification of the laws.

Several facts aren’t discussed in many of the most recent articles about Clark’s work.

For example, it has been demonstrated that some of the subjects of Clark’s most pornographic images are under the age of 18. This is hinted at in some of the newspaper articles from October 2010 but without supporting details. Now is a good time to bring those details to light.

Clark self-published a book called “Teenage Lust” in 1983. The content lives up to the title. An infamous photo called “Prostitute Gives Teenager His First Blow Job, 1974” shows a 16-year-old teenage boy being serviced by an adult woman. The picture leaves nothing to the imagination. (19 additional sexually explicit photos from the blowjob shoot are contained in Clark’s 1993 book “The Perfect Childhood”.) A non-pornographic nude photo of this boy elsewhere in “Teenage Lust” is captioned “Runaway, California” and was also made in 1974. There’s no such thing as an 18-year-old runaway from home since adults aren’t constrained the way minors are. I was informed that one or both of the books directly state that his age was 16.

Also in “Teenage Lust” is the photo of a teenage girl who’s surely only about 14 years old. She’s frontally nude and the salient factors are that her entire pubic area is visible while her legs are open and that her hands grasp a boy’s penis.

The ages are less obvious, or not stated, in some other photos in the book. There are some teenagers shown copulating and being masturbated. How old are they? Some look potentially 16 or 17. I have not seen the entire book so I don’t know if their ages are revealed. Some of the other photos depict mere nudity and are not legally contentious under U.S. federal law.

To my knowledge, the book “Tulsa” doesn’t have images of underage fornication but it does show at least one nude adolescent girl and at least two nude adolescent boys (see “Threesome, 1971”). That picture isn’t technically illegal.

Anyway, it’s no wonder why the Miami Herald wrote about Clark’s “photo books filled with graphic images of underage prostitutes” [note 9] and why the Atlanta-Journal Constitution spoke of “underage Times Square hustlers – in a manner that was boldly graphic” [note 10].

Davies noted that “Adolescents feature in pictures taken… they make love, explore their bodies, take drugs and drink alcohol.” [note 3]

Amy Adler wrote, “One of the most disturbing and well-known art photographers, Larry Clark, who documents the lives of drug addicted and violent teenagers, takes photographs which, one could argue, easily meet the definition of child pornography.” [note 11]

Clark himself acknowledged that some of his subjects are under 18. Speaking to the French newspaper Libération, he condemned the decision to bar people under 18 from visiting his exhibition in Paris: “I see this as an attack on youth, on adolescents. These photos are for them … Forbidding people of 16 or 17 years old to come here and to see themselves is stupid.” (translated from the French) [note 3]

The only way to interpret Clark’s comment “see themselves” is to understand that he photographed 16 and 17 year olds among others.

It’s odd to find curators of art galleries around the world along with others in the art world making what are quite possibly the only contemporary statements defending a hardcore underage pornographer.

Sébastien Gokalp, a curator of the show in Paris, told ARTINFO France “if we removed some of the images, it would no longer be Larry Clark” and acknowledged it “concerns itself with the coming of age and all that this entails: love, firearms, drugs, sex.”

Fabrice Hergott, another of the curators, claimed the photos “have nothing to do with any kind of supposed pornography or paedophilia”.

Staff members of the International Center of Photography (ICP), an institution in New York City, expressed their support for Clark’s work, arguing that they are legitimate expressions because the photos have artistic qualities and were not made for the express purpose of sexually arousing viewers. ICP put Clark’s entire “Tulsa” and “Teenage Lust” collections on display from March-June 2005. Norway’s Preus Museum published a summary of ICP’s point of view on their website [note 7] and must have agreed with that perspective since they themselves showed Clark’s “Teenage Lust” to the public in June-August 2007.

The art historian Jean-Christophe Amman wrote a biography of Clark that included the bizarre claim that people don’t object to underage pornography these days: “Drugs get harder, sex is taken for granted more than ever, attitudes get tougher, and so nobody minds Larry taking photos of young people getting laid.” (translated from the German) [note 8]

It also must be the case that Clark has an extra stash of underage pornography in his home in New York that has never been published or exhibited – outtakes from the photo sessions with the youths. After all, he didn’t publish 19 of the 20 blowjob photos showing the 16-year-old boy in 1983 but waited until 1993. By the same token, Clark’s 2003 book “punk Picasso” included previously unpublished pictures from the “Tulsa” and “42nd Series” series. How much else exists? Under current laws private ownership of such photos is considered “possession of child pornography” even if the youths have attained the age of consent for sexual encounters in the flesh (17 in New York and, incidentally, 15 in France).

In 2005, Clark was frustrated that no real American publisher would reprint “Teenage Lust”. [note 12] The San Francisco Chronicle reported on how “U.S. publishers are disgusted by the pictures of underage sex and drug abuse. Clark… has a stack of explicit pictures waiting to be published, but so far no one in America has been prepared to take the risk.” The news brief went on to say that the pictures in question were on display at the ICP that year.

In this day and age, porn magazines and art books alike have hardcore pornography featuring adults, which is no longer considered obscene under U.S. federal law, and is allowed under New York law too, so there is only one explanation for the reluctance of American publishers: legal worries. That in itself contradicts the ICP’s claim that the photos aren’t pornographic, because as Adler so aptly noted a case could easily be made in court by a U.S. Attorney with a vindictive nature. The difference between Clark and other pornographers is that he has more supporters, or at least more supporters who lend their voices to the public square.

In 2001, Clark told Tulsa Kinney, “Well it’s not porn because it’s documentary. It’s real things happening; it’s not set up. I mean why can’t you photograph everything about life? Why can’t you photograph intimate moments? People say, ‘Oh no, I can’t take a picture of that.’ Why can’t you? People photograph your first communion, why can’t you photograph your first blowjob? It’s part of life. That’s why it’s not porn.”[note 13]

No, Larry, you can’t photograph anything you want under the guise of art or documentation. You’ll have to get the law changed, or a court to rule in favor of those exceptions, in order to do that legally. Why aren’t you being prosecuted like almost everyone else who depicts 16 year olds involved in fellatio and 14 year olds in lascivious poses?

The rule of law is made into a joke when exceptions are unofficially carved out for famous and respected people by means of selective prosecution.

Newspapers report that “sexting” by adolescents remains a current concern of school officials, law enforcement, and legislators. Some of these adolescents are photographing their “real”, unstaged “intimate moments” that are “part of life”, whether it’s their “first blowjob”, their first intercourse, their first cunnilingus, or simply masturbating alone in their bedrooms. Can any of these adolescents claim a documentary or artistic exemption? Can these adolescents exhibit their own pictures to the public at even one art gallery without an incident?

How often have we heard the phrase “That couldn’t be remade today!” That says it all very succinctly. For better or worse, no adolescent can create work like Clark’s even if it’s with their friends or just showing themselves.

Meanwhile, the famous adult Clark has never been arrested over his pictures and does not restrain himself from showing his underage nudes time and time again. Is that justice? The whole point of child pornography legislation is to prevent adults from “exploiting” minors. If that point is being undermined by allowing Larry Clark, Bill Henson, David Hamilton, Jock Sturges, and others to sell and exhibit their works of questionable legality, because of an implicit acknowledgement that that kind of content isn’t really bad after all, it’s high time for legislators to revisit the texts of the laws on the books and make them more equitable – by officially allowing certain types of underage porn. Sadly, they haven’t got the guts to do that at this time.

Clark’s show “Kiss The Past Hello” will remain on exhibit until January 2, 2011. During these three months I am forced to predict we’ll see more cell phone confiscations, computer confiscations, police interrogations, patronizing lectures, arrests, plea deals, and convictions related to 16 and 17 year old boys and girls involved in pornography in the United States.

1. “Paris Slaps Racy Larry Clark Show With an X Rating” by Nicolai Hartvig in ARTINFO France, September 23, 2010, http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/35856/paris-slaps-racy-larry-clark-show-with-an-x-rating/
2. “Paris decides exhibition about teenage sex is too raunchy – for teenagers” in The Independent, October 8, 2010, http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/news/paris-decides-exhibition-about-teenage-sex-is-too-raunchy-ndash-for-teenagers-2101009.html
3. “Outcry as Paris bans under 18s from Larry Clark exhibition” by Lizzy Davies in The Guardian, October 7, 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2010/oct/07/larry-clark-under-18s-exhibition-ban
4. “Photographer Larry Clark attacks age limit on his Paris show” by AFP, http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5i7w_7iXeHidwk0RqBnXieKR1gT0A?docId=CNG.269d5b4d24611193b334b94159602133.d41
5. “Jugendverbot bei Larry Clark-Ausstellung” in Die Presse, September 20, 2010, http://diepresse.com/home/kultur/kunst/595763/index.do?from=gl.home_kultur
6. New York v. Ferber 458 U.S. 747 (1982).
7. http://www.preusmuseum.no/english/print.php?id=396_0_59_0
8. http://www.offworld.de/chkcom/PDFs/Clark.pdf
9. “Kids May Be Kids — But, Oh, The Heartbreak Director Documents…” (full title not known to me) in the Miami Herald, July 30, 1995.
10. Visual Arts section, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 27, 1995.
11. Amy Adler, “The Perverse Law of Child Pornography” in The Columbia Law Review, March 2001, note 154.
12. “Clark Turns to Europe With His Explicit Photos” in the Daily Dish column of the San Francisco Chronicle, April 19, 2005, http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2005/04/19/ddish.DTL&ao=2
13. Tulsa Kinney, “Lust and Liberty” in LA Weekly, December 6, 2001, http://www.laweekly.com/2001-12-06/news/lust-and-liberty/2

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