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.

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§ 6 Responses to Guy Bourdin’s Photo of Topless Little Girls Rejected by Photo Fair

  • Jerrold says:

    Do you know WHICH MONTH’S ISSUE of Vogue France 1978 those photos were in?

  • Jerrold says:

    Are you sure that there was anything illegal about the occupancy? It looks to me that the photographer put that sign there himself, to add some humor to the scene. He must have made the sign as a parody of the actual occupancy limit signs that are legally required in places like restaurants.

  • Maybe it is a parody of those signs but the sign purports to come from the “Commissioner / Department of Buildings / City of New York”.

    • Jerrold says:

      That is interesting, but it only seems to mean that the sign was a very realistic parody. Those signs do not exist in people’s bedrooms.

  • Jerrold says:

    ABOUT: the sign purports to come from the “Commissioner / Department of Buildings / City of New York”.

    Could you please tell me in WHAT publication is your copy of the photo?
    I would be interested in obtaining a copy of it for myself.

  • Jerrold says:

    UPDATE (One year later):

    OK, I now have that issue of the magazine.
    It is the Paris Vogue of Dec. 1977 – Jan. 1978.

    The photo described here fills up one page, not two.
    (Even though the facing page bears a photo that could be called “on-topic” for this discussion.)
    The five girls are partially covered up ABOVE their waists also.

    That sign on the wall above them was obviously put there for the photo.
    IT IS the kind of sign that exists in New York City restaurants and clubs,
    which states the maximum legally permitted number of occupants.

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