Spread-Legged Young Girls Remain Contentious

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:

  • The angles of the upper leg bones of males and females differ. Females have a more pronounced inward slant to their upper legs, making their knees touch each other naturally when they sit, unlike with males. Most females prefer to sit cross-legged or with both legs completely touching all the way down to their feet, rather than open-legged, to feel physically comfortable and to preserve their modesty if they’re wearing a skirt.
  • An “open” posture is usually necessary for females to engage in the act of frontal vaginal intercourse and is therefore associated with it, whereas men don’t need to spread their legs to have sex.
  • Apart from male gymnasts, most males find it difficult to extend their legs all the way apart without injury, in contrast to females. It is, after, all necessary for women to open up when they give birth through the vagina.

    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:

  • cartwheels (The prepubescent 10-year-old Isabella Nightingale performed cartwheels in the nude in her British movie The Spy Who Caught A Cold and in so doing briefly displayed her genitals explicitly)
  • gymnastics
  • sitting on exercise equipment (PureNudism.com, an American site, includes photos of girl children with their legs open while they sit on leg-training equipment in a fitness room)
  • ballet (especially the famous pose where one leg is extended straight out while the other leg is flat to the floor)
  • yoga and meditation (especially when sitting cross-legged)
  • aerobic exercising
  • dancing with leg kicks up in the air
  • swimming with kicking motions (as Jenny Agutter did at the age of 16 in the movie Walkabout and Phoebe Cates did at 17 in Paradise, both while nude)
  • riding a horse
  • sitting “Indian-style” on the floor or ground
  • climbing a ladder
  • as well as numerous situations in everyday life where one needs to sit (for example, two naked little girls in the movie Madita – Du är inte klok Madicken sat forward in a chair while they opened their legs to put on their socks)

    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.

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    § 7 Responses to Spread-Legged Young Girls Remain Contentious

    • pipstarr72 says:

      As you know, I had Pringle’s image posted on my blog briefly, but Pringle or someone representing his estate (I can’t imagine Pringle is still alive at this point, or if he is he’s very old) asked me to remove it. I have had this request twice before and in those cases it had nothing to do with the nudity. This one was clearly different, however, as the requester specifically pointed out that he had promised the subject of the photo it would never be published on the internet, and the requester was clearly concerned about prosecution, which seems odd to me given that it was published in the volume you named without any incident thus far. At any rate, it seems to me to be an impossible request to fulfill ultimately, but I of course honored it. The photo is likely to appear elsewhere on the internet sans identification.

    • Pipstarr72, on your blog you asserted that the photo was shot in 1943, but in fact Pringle was born in 1943 and the photo dates from two or three decades later. A few years ago the same photo was displayed with identification on a Russian-hosted gallery created by a French art collector calling himself “France Imagitek”. That was where I first saw it. I think it was Pringle himself who made the request to you and not somebody else using his name.

      • pipstarr72 says:

        Ah, that explains it! Having just perused the book again, I see I misread the caption giving biographical info, and the title (“Nude” is dated 1977)–I should’ve checked it again before I posted, but it’s a moot point now.

    • sexhysteria says:

      Very informative, but the last paragraph seems to be saying that Jock Sturges “…either had sexual relations with youth or have admitted to being sexually attracted to them.” I read several of Jock’s books and he seems to deny any sexual interest in youth. Perhaps you intended to say “…never had sexual…”

      My documentary “Girl Becomes Woman” includes at least one portrait of my model (then nine) doing a cartwheel, and hence with her legs spread wide apart, but I’ve never been accused of sexual intent. http://www.GirlBecomesWoman.com

      • My use of the word “either” in the last paragraph means that Sturges and Mader individually fulfilled at least one of the two conditions, not that they necessarily fulfilled both conditions. However, Sturges may fulfill both conditions. Sturges confessed to having sex with 14 year old Jennifer when he was double her age. Would he have had sex with her if he wasn’t sexually attracted to her? It wasn’t just a one night stand, they weren’t under the influence of alcohol or drugs to my knowledge, he isn’t a sex addict who has relations with everyone he can, and he thought she looked attractive enough to appear in his pictures.

        One more thing – Did Sturges begin to develop attractions to his wife Maia (whom he knew since her late preteen years) before she turned 18? I suspect he did.

    • sexhysteria says:

      Wow. I never heard that before. If it’s true, that’s a tragedy. But I’ll give Jock the benefit of the doubt until I see his admission myself. People are all too eager to believe and spread sex scandals. But thanks for letting me know the story is out there.

    • Ron says:

      There should be no objection to a double-standard on principle since it would be naive not to acknowledge the psychological differences between boys and girls (not to mention their psychological impact on others). It should be said that a particular standard is objectionable or acceptable.
      You “frontal” vaginal intercourse, but it is my experience that any vaginal intercourse of any kind requires the female to spread her legs.
      When a model poses nude, it is often a reflection of his/her trust in the artist and the environment of the shoot. These spread-legged poses should be in most cases judged from a clothed counterpart. The Taschen photo reflects a common pose taken by relaxed girls sitting on a piece of furniture. The psychological bias that most people initially fixate on the genitals fades over time when the full impact of the image is appreciated. Naturists who are accustomed to nudity often express surprise at this kind of fixation.

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