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:
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.