Guy Bourdin’s Photo of Topless Little Girls Rejected by Photo Fair
December 24, 2013 § 6 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.