January 4, 2012 § 1 Comment
Controversies: A Legal and Ethical History of Photography was an exhibition held at Galerie Rudolfinum in Prague in the Czech Republic from September 8, 2011 until November 13, 2011. The Musée de l’Elysée of Lausanne, France organized it. Some of the photographs displayed involve children.
In 1975, the American photographer Garry Gross photographed 9 or 10 year old Brooke Shields naked in numerous non-explicit poses. The photo displayed in this exhibition showed her standing full-frontally nude in a bathtub. Shields became bitter about how Gross was trying to profit from her fame in the wake of the success of her movie career – even though he had the right to do so because the contract Brooke’s mother signed in 1975 gave all rights to the photos to him, as later court decisions affirmed. The UK’s Star magazine quoted Brooke’s interview from Easy Living magazine:
“My kids walk around naked all the time, and I was nine – I wasn’t uncomfortable doing it [posing nude for photographs]. When I was 16, I wouldn’t have done it. That guy [Garry Gross] waited until I was 16 before he decided to publish it – he tried to take this famous person [me] and sell her out.” [note 1]
In reality, Gross did not wait until 1981 – she turned 16 in 1981 – before he published them. Some of these nudes appeared between the pages of the book Sugar and Spice: Surprising and Sensuous Images of Women in 1976 and the French edition of PHOTO magazine in July 1978. Maybe she’s forgotten those things? Shields’s words contain a half-truth, though: the entire series was published (poster-size!) and advertised by Gross in the early 1980s as The Woman in the Child. Another discrepancy is how most other sources claim she was 10 when the photos were made [note 2], yet here she claimed she was 9. At this time, I don’t know the month and day during 1975 when the photos were shot. She was 9 before May 31st of that year.
Jock Sturges was another of the American photographers included. The gallery showed his group photo of three young girls (Christina, Misty, and Alisa) posing without clothes in northern California in 1989. The girl on the right side exposed her pubic area while she stood. The photo was included in the context of his legal battle with the U.S. Justice Department in 1990.
Graham Ovenden, an English photographer of children, was represented by a photo he took of Maud Hewes, age 10, in 1984. The photo here was the one that was prosecuted in federal court in the United States in the early 1990s showing her seated nude with her legs open. The girl herself, now an adult, defended Ovenden in writing and that was part of the reason the government gave up trying to claim the photos were “lascivious”. The issue of spread-legged underage girls is the focus of a blog entry I wrote after this one.
Irina Ionesco, a transplanted Romanian living in France, made a series of photographs in Palais Mucha in Prague back when it was part of unified Czechoslovakia. At least one of them showed a nude woman. Another showed her daughter Eva baring a nipple as a child while she reclined on a table and stared at the camera; this photo was offered up for auction on November 5, 2008 by Be-Hold in Yonkers, New York as Lot 133. That may be the photo of Eva they chose for the exhibition, but again it might be another one shot that day or week. While the exhibition’s printed guide claimed Eva’s photo dates from 1970 (which would mean she was 5 when it was shot), in fact the Palais Mucha series dates from 1974 which accords with the fact that she looks older than she did at 5.
Annalies Štrba, also from continental Europe (Switzerland), made a photo titled “Sonja in her Bath” showing her daughter Sonja full-frontally nude (partly under the surface of the water) as an adolescent. The exhibition’s printed guide claimed the photo was shot in 1985 but other dates are sometimes given in other sources, but every source agrees that she was under 18 at the time and the girl herself has said she was 16 [note 3]. The photo had been displayed inside the Rhodes + Mann gallery in east London, England in December 2002. A complaint prompted the Crown Prosecution Service to consider charges against the gallery [note 4]. From what I’ve gathered, charges were never officially filed against either the gallery or Štrba.
As there are no sexual acts in the aforementioned photos, the prosecutions and threatened prosecutions reflect merely a discomfort with portrayals of the bodies of youths, especially when photos acknowledge that they have reproductive organs and pubic hair.
Robert Mapplethorpe’s photo in the exhibition did not portray a child but himself as an adult. I don’t know what Larry Clark’s 1970 photo depicted.
1. “Shields opens up about underage nude photo” in Star, April 21, 2010, http://www.star-magazine.co.uk/posts/view/19535/Shields-opens-up-about-underage-nude-photo/
2. For instance, “Garry Gross Is Dead at 73; Photographer of Clothes and Their Absence” by Dennis Hevesi in The New York Times, December 7, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/07/arts/design/07gross.html mentioned “controversial photos of an unclothed 10-year-old Brooke Shields”, and “American Idols” by Maura Egan in Departures, September 2007, http://www.departures.com/articles/american-idols referred to “ten-year-old, pre–Pretty Baby Brooke Shields glistening nude in a bathtub.”
3. “Bath girl blasts ‘pornography’ charge” by Danielle Demetriou in The Evening Standard, December 19, 2002.
4. “Gallery faces prosecution over picture of a girl in the bath by Fiachra Gibbons in The Guardian, December 18, 2002, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2002/dec/18/arts.childprotection
August 16, 2011 § 1 Comment
The first photographic portrait of a human being was shot in October 1839 by Robert Cornelius and it was a self-portrait. As soon as portraiture became viable, nude studies were made, and among these were nude photos of young girls.
One of the pioneers in nude daguerreotype photography was the Frenchman Félix-Jacques Antoine Moulin. He opened a studio on the rue du Faubourg Montmartre in Paris, France in 1849 when he was aged in his late 40s. Already in 1849 and 1850 he was producing and publishing nude photos for the public. His early subjects were “non-professional female models aged 14-16”, as John Windsor noted in his review [note 1] of the book Early Erotic Photography edited by Serge Nazarieff. The photos were uncensored with clear views of the subjects’ nipples and pubic hair and many of the models wore no clothes at all and went barefoot.
Two photos illustrate the contrasting kinds of portraits Moulin made with adolescents. The first I’ll discuss is a photo he shot in 1849 showing 16 year old Céline Cerf standing full-frontally nude against a dark background and holding a linen shirt at the side of her leg. This is a rather innocent image though some think her facial expression is suggestive of eroticism.
Quite different is a stereoscopic daguerreotype from 1851 or 1852 showing two seated females where the one in the front, whose body and face are distinctly adolescent (I think she’s 15 though 14 is also likely), is masturbating. The masturbating girl has her eyes closed and is full-frontally nude with her legs wide open, displaying both of her breasts and her ample pubic hair, with one of her hands touching her vulva (her middle finger may be slightly inserted into her vagina). The other female, looking a little older, likewise exposes her pubic hair while her legs are apart and she’s gazing down at the girl’s pubic area while placing one of her hands on the upper arm of the girl and it seems to touch the edge of the girl’s breast. This latter photo was titled “Obscénité (Indecent Exposure)” when it came to auction as lot 7 in the series Photographies de 1839-1989 by Binoche Renaud-Giquello & Associés on June 25, 2010.
Nazarieff called Moulin “the first in the history of photography whose work exudes seductiveness”. Moulin probably made other pornographic photos of adolescent girls that I’m unaware of.
Moulin’s activities led to the world’s first child pornography court case. In 1851, he was charged and convicted of selling and possessing “obscene objects”. His punishment was a month in prison and a fine of 100 francs [note 1]. (His colleague, the photographer Jules Malacrida, was sent behind bars for one year and fined 500 francs.) In the five years that followed Moulin’s release from prison, he actually resumed making nude photos of females, somewhat clandestinely, though some of them look like they were perhaps a little older than the ones who posed for him before. Moulin exhibited some nude photos of females at the Exposition Universelle held in Paris in 1855 [note 2].
Here we are 160 years later, in the year 2011, and this kind of art is still not legally or culturally accepted today. The criminal penalties for making explicit photos of adolescent girls are typically even harsher today (years or decades in prison and fines of tens of thousands of dollars) compared to Moulin’s sentence. How can this be? Masturbation is a natural, healthy act that’s never abusive and the pubic area is a fundamental part of a girl’s body. David Hamilton resided in Moulin’s country and followed in Moulin’s footsteps by photographing adolescent girls graphically nude and occasionally masturbating, but that was during an all-too-brief renaissance of young nude art in the 1970s. Nobody openly makes such photos today.
Moulin’s nude photos have been published in several books and sold in multiple auctions. At least one is housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Another is in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California. The photo of the girl holding the linen shirt is housed at the Albertina museum in Vienna, Austria. Emperor Franz Josef of Austria owned some of them. So prestigious institutions as well as prominent individuals have collected them.
1. “A tale of indecent exposures” by John Windsor in The Independent, November 6, 1993, http://www.independent.co.uk/money/a-tale-of-indecent-exposures-the-apparently-respectable-french-pioneers-of-19thcentury-photography-sold-pornographic-and-erotic-prints-on-the-side-says-john-windsor-1502527.html
2. Donald Rosenthal’s entry on Félix Moulin in Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, edited by John Hannavy, 2007, volume 1, on page 946.
July 9, 2011 § 3 Comments
One of the most controversial kinds of depictions of nude children is the pubic area close-up. This is only rarely encountered in the mainstream arts.
Sally Mann is an American photographer whose book Immediate Family sparked controversy for its black-and-white photos of her own kids in the nude. Photos from this series, including some not included in the book, have been shown in art galleries. From November 29, 2007 to January 12, 2008 the Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York City showed a Sally Mann photo titled “Equivalent #2, Possum Tail” which she shot in 1985 and it’s still displayed at their website houkgallery.com. One print out of the 25 made is currently for sale from the Greg Kucera Gallery in Seattle, Washington for the exhorbitant price of 4,500 U.S. dollars(!). The photo shows her unclothed little daughter lying flat on her back while the possum tail rests on her stomach and her prepubescent genital cleft is in the middle of the image. Her body was only photographed from the area from her stomach to her upper legs. On either side of her body there’s only darkness. One cannot help but notice her pubic area.
The Spanish actress Dafne Fernández, whose birthdate is March 31, 1985, has a scene in the Spanish film Resultado Final that similarly pushes the limits of acceptability. Released in 1998, it was reportedly filmed in 1997, so Fernández was only 11 or 12 at the time, and her body has typical features of a prepubescent of that age including her proportions, her hairlessness around her crotch, and her flat chest. Most of the film shows her character, María José, at older ages. Fernández is given only about a minute and a half of screen time to illustrate Maria’s childhood days, yet packed into that brief time she is given a topless scene where she’s clad only in panties as well as a bath scene that has a moment where she stands displaying her bare, wet body at close range – only from the upper half of her upper legs to some of the skin immediately north of her pubic mound but without her belly button in the frame. Her genital cleft is one of the few things that can be seen at that time. Once again, it’s as if the viewer is being asked to notice a child’s pubic area. Why would a director and camera operator do that?
Incidentally, Resultado Final also includes two heterosexual sex scenes showing Maria as an adult woman, so this isn’t entirely a non-sexual film.
In a previous blog entry I discussed a scene in the Brazilian film Eu Me Lembro that zooms in on an 11-year-old boy’s erect penis. Unlike the two examples above, Eu Me Lembro depicts a child’s genitals for an overtly sexual reason – as part of a masturbation scene.
For various reasons, the emphasis on the vulva or penis of a child is considered harmful by making the child into a sexual object. It’s certainly depersonalizing to an extent as the child’s face is not visible in this kind of shot. But when the exact same body part is exposed when the child’s full figure is visible somehow the image is considered less vulgar. How big a deal should a close-up really be considered?
May 7, 2011 § Leave a comment
Bill Henson is an Australian photographer who nearly got charged with child pornography in the wake of a nude art exhibit in 2008 that got some journalists [note 1] and child advocates riled up. I personally didn’t understand what all the fuss was about because the photos in that exhibit showed a 12-year-old girl just standing topless or nude and nothing sexual was shown or implied. The matter got resolved when the Office of Film and Literature Classification classified the main (topless) photo at issue with the rating PG, making the photo officially legal. Five other photos got rated G. None were given the dreaded RC rating, which stands for “Refused Classification” and would be the kiss of death for any artist seeking to distribute or sell his work.
Later that year, on September 25th, another side of Henson came to the fore when a quite different style of photo starring a different girl of roughly the same age appeared as Lot 214 in the auction “Fitzroy – 0043” held by Lawson-Menzies at Menzies Art Brands Gallery in Kensington, New South Wales. The photo, taken from Henson’s “Untitled 1985/86” series, had been exhibited and published two decades earlier, before Henson became so controversial. Australian police didn’t take action against the photo at any time. At the Menzies auction it sold for 3,800 Australian dollars.
In July 2010, the auctioned photo was criticized for “sexualizing” the girl in a blog written by Melinda Tankard Reist [note 2]
Reist also quoted an article by Abigail Bray that she had included as a chapter in a book she edited:
“…the black and white ‘Untitled 1985/86’ …peers down on a naked child on the crumpled sheets of a bed, her knees bent, her legs wide open, her face turned away from the camera, her lips parted, her expression blank. She is wearing childish bangles on both arms and an ankle ‘slave’ bangle. Her hair is in a ponytail. Her vagina and budding breasts are highlighted by Henson’s trademark manipulation of shadow. The girl is anonymous. However, to see the ugly sexual political context of Henson’s photographs is to be dismissed a hysteric, prude or worse.” [note 3]
I saw the photo at the auction’s official website and can confirm that Bray’s description is accurate except we don’t really see the girl’s vagina (an internal organ), instead we see her pubic hair and only a hint of her vaginal opening.
Reist cited the photo at an Australian Senate inquiry on classifying art that was held on April 27, 2011. Reist partly quoted and paraphrased Bray’s words when she asked the Senate’s legal affairs committee:
“Why is a pornographic image of a young girl okay just because you slap the word ‘art’ on it? The camera peers down on a naked child on the crumpled sheets of a bed. Her face is turned away from the camera. Her hair is in a ponytail, her vagina and breasts are highlighted by trademark manipulation. If this image was shown in any other place it would be considered illegal and somebody could probably be charged.” [note 4]
Reist also made it clear that she doesn’t approve of this sort of photo and would like the classification board to act against it.
Tamara Winikoff, director of the National Association for the Visual Arts, disagreed, attacking what she described as “child protection zealots” and noting “Images of children, clothed or unclothed, are disappearing from the public domain. This form of censorship is a scapegoating of artists.” [note 4]
Like most photographers of models, Henson shoots multiple images during each photo session. So it comes as no surprise that the girl was photographed full-frontally nude and spread-eagle on the bed in at least two more images made that day. The National Gallery of Victoria, a government-run public art gallery and museum located in Melbourne, received two of them from Henson in 2007. I saw them on the official website of the gallery. There may be even more like them that haven’t been released yet.
In NGV News on May 28, 2008, the gallery explained why they accepted the acquisition of Henson’s works: “The human body at all ages and in all its forms has been explored widely by generations of artists – indeed it is the core of humanism in culture.” [note 5] This was certainly true of sculptures and paintings in the ancient Greek and Roman cultures, both of which, incidentally, especially glorified young bodies. This was much less the case during the Christian Middle Ages in Europe (prior to the Renaissance) when nudity rarely appeared in art and non-religious paintings were rare altogether. Reist is a Christian and most modern Christian leaders still oppose nude displays.
These erotic photos are reminiscent of the more graphic nudes in David Hamilton’s portfolio of adolescent girls.
So, what should we think about a 12-year-old pubescent girl appearing naked in poses like a model in an erotic magazine? Was she old enough to give informed consent? I say ask the model what she thinks, if she’s still alive. It’s her opinion that matters the most. Some of Henson’s other models who also posed before they were 18 have defended his work and I have to assume this model never objected to being portrayed in this graphic way over the past two and a half decades.
At the 2010 Melbourne Art Fair, Henson suggested that young girls and boys can give informed consent to model in the nude and “There’s no specific documentation to suggest anywhere, so far as my legal researchers have been able to discover, that shows that life modelling by children for artists results in physical or psychological damage.” [note 6] He contrasted this with the very serious risks that playing sports can bring, such as spinal injuries that can confine a person to a wheelchair for life. “The idea of banning the human body as a subject for art – it is ridiculous.” [note 7]
One could also defend these photos on the basis that the average adolescent girl has a level of awareness that’s higher than that of a prepubescent.
1. “Moral backlash over sexing up of our children” by Miranda Devine in The Sydney Morning Herald, May 22, 2008, http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/moral-backlash-over-sexing-up-of-our-children/2008/05/21/1211182891875.html
2. “Boys and Guns photo exhibition cannot be compared with Henson’s naked girl images” by Melinda Tankard Reist, July 5, 2010, http://melindatankardreist.com/2010/07/boys-and-guns-photo-exhibition-cannot-be-compared-with-henson%e2%80%99s-naked-girl-images/
3. “The Gaze that Dare Not Speak Its Name: Bill Henson and Child Sexual Abuse Moral Panics” by Abigail Bray starting on page 109 in Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls edited by Melinda Tankard Reist, published by Spinifex Press in 2010.
4. “Henson photos likened to child porn” by Stephen Johnson in The Sydney Morning Herald, April 27, 2011, http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-national/henson-photos-likened-to-child-porn-20110427-1dvrx.html
5. “Statement from the National Gallery of Victoria: Bill Henson” by National Gallery of Victoria, May 28, 2008, http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/media-app/mediaReleases/105/display
6. “Controversial photographer Henson speaks out” by Megan Levy in The Age, August 3, 2010, http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/controversial-photographer-henson-speaks-out-20100802-113bw.html
7. “Bill Henson defends child models” by Michaela Boland in The Australian, August 3, 2010, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/bill-henson-defends-child-models/story-e6frg6nf-1225900285714
April 4, 2011 § Leave a comment
Galerie ‘t Fotokabinet in Den Haag in South Holland held an exhibition called Controversial Nudes from October 19, 2008 to November 30, 2008.
One of the photos on display came from Will McBride’s book Show Me! A Picture Book of Sex for Children and Parents: a 13-year-old adolescent girl lies full-frontally nude sideways on the floor while a teenage boy with an exposed penis hovers above her. This is presented in black-and-white.
Another black-and-white photo was shot by Irina Ionesco in 1975 in her usual erotic style. It’s a seated portrait of her daughter Eva at the age of 8 or 9. Her largely exposed body confronts the viewer. Both of her little breasts are bared and her legs are open wide. Her pubic area is only partly obscured by an accessory so the sides of her pubic mound are visible.
Also exhibited were photos of topless young girls by Graham Ovenden and the vintage two-man team Lehnert & Landrock.
The main reason these photos are considered controversial is because of the subjects’ tender ages. In Ionesco’s case it’s also debated whether it was appropriate that she photographed her own daughter in suggestive ways, and Lehnert & Landrock are occasionally criticized for having made nude postcards of North African girls and women under the excuse of anthropological research.
The nudes of adults by Helmut Newton, Terry Richardson, Jan Saudek, and Nobuyoshi Araki are controversial for reasons that go beyond the scope of this blog.
March 12, 2011 § 1 Comment
Early in 2011, police probed The Lucid Evidence, a photography exhibition being held at the Frankfurt Museum of Modern Art (Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main, or MMK for short) in Frankfurt am Main, Germany from September 25, 2010 until April 25, 2011. They were seeking to determine whether the exhibition violated Germany’s laws against child pornography (for subjects under 14) and youth pornography (14-17). It was brought to their attention by a concerned visitor who was offended by what was on display.
Photographs by Larry Clark, Jock Sturges, and Nobuyoshi Araki are among those being shown. All three photographers have worked with subjects under the age of 18 who are frequently nude. I have previously blogged about both Clark and Sturges. An example of a photo by Araki that I’ve seen is an image in his book Chrysalis showing a flat-chested preteen girl sitting full-frontally nude on a bathtub. I don’t know if that photo is on display or not.
A spokesman for the police, Alexander Kiessling, explained that the museum has been cleared of criminal misconduct, claiming, “Wir konnten klären, dass es sich bei monierten Fotos, auf denen junge Leute Geschlechtsverkehr haben, um junge Erwachsene handelt. Der Kunstbegriff wird hier an den Rand der Legalität geführt. Kunst ist ja weit gefasst.” [note 1] (“We were able to clarify that the young people having sex in the photos that were reported are actually young adults. The concept of art is being brought to the edge of legality. Art is so broad.”)
However, according to the MMK, “Larry Clark’s complete early works are part of the MMK Collection, which includes the series Tulsa and Teenage Lust.” [note 2]
I’ve already demonstrated that Teenage Lust does include underage people in erotic and occasionally hardcore pornographic photos. Examples are a 16-year-old boy receiving oral sex from a woman and a spread-legged early teen girl holding a boy’s penis.
I found that a visitor photographed a wall from the MMK exhibition that contains many (but not all) of Clark’s black-and-white images. Some of the subjects appear to be adolescent boys. Some are fully dressed, but one row has three photos of what appears to be an adolescent boy standing stark naked. Two shots are from the front and one is from the rear. While this photo doesn’t violate German law, some of the photos in Teenage Lust do. The museum claims to own every photo from that series, so I wouldn’t be so sure that Kiessling is correct that the displayed photos of young people having sex are all actually 18 and older.
In a “Dialog” held on March 2, 2011 at the MMK for members of the museum, Susanne Gaensheimer and Adrian Koerfer gave a guided tour of the exhibition. According to the MMK, “The talk will be specifically focussed on the works of Jock Sturges and Larry Clark. Because of their portrayal of naked children and teenagers the photos of both are controversially discussed issues ever since. Susanne Gaensheimer and Adrian Koerfer will direct their discussion towards that topic.” [note 3] That right there is an admission that both Sturges and Clark have underage photos on display.
During the investigation, Peter Gorschlüter, Deputy Director of the MMK, talked with police detectives about the disputed photos. He justified the photos by their artistic and historical/documentary contexts and by the fact that they’ve been frequently exhibited around the world [note 1]. A pleading for this kind of justification is common in art museums, as if widespread dissemination of images and their special context would make otherwise illegal photos acceptable.
As for Sturges’s photos in the exhibition, it would appear they’re solidly legal according to German law. A visitor wrote that many of Sturges’s photos at the MMK are “nude portraits of pubescent girls that were taken at nude beaches in the US and France” [note 4] and I read similar descriptions elsewhere.
1. “Polizei prüft Foto-Ausstellung im MMK Frankfurt” by DPA in Monopol – Magazin für Kunst und Leben, February 23, 2011, http://www.monopol-magazin.de/artikel/20102483/Polizei-prueft-Foto-Ausstellung-im-MMK-Frankfurt.html
2. Official exhibition page for “The Lucid Evidence”, Frankfurt Museum of Modern Art, http://www.mmk-frankfurt.de/en/ausstellung/current-exhibitions/exhibition-details/exhibition_uid/2423/
4. “Photography Exhibits at Frankfurt’s MMK” by Bloggerboy, December 2, 2010, http://velcomefisitor.blogspot.com/2010/12/photography-exhibits-in-frankfurt.html
January 22, 2011 § Leave a comment
Frank Cordelle is an American photographer of nude females of all ages. Since the 1980s he has worked on what he calls “The Century Project”. What started as a traveling exhibit in 1992 has now also resulted in a book [note 1] and several excerpts published in art and naturist magazines in the United States, Canada, and Australia [note 2].
Comparing Cordelle’s work to that of Jock Sturges may be instructive.
Both Cordelle and Sturges have worked with ordinary children and adolescents for whom modeling is not a career. Most of them have been portrayed full-frontally nude. Occasionally the models are in open leg poses but the photos are not overtly sexual as they do not concentrate on the pubic area but on the whole body and the face.
The models pose with the written permission of their parents. Every girl is informed about the nature of the projects and their photos are withdrawn from future exhibitions if the model changes her mind about wanting to participate.
Both photographers have invited their models to write personal statements (Cordelle published the statements in his book, and Sturges did the same in his book “Jock Sturges: Notes” in 2004).
Both have worked in both color and black and white.
There are some differences between them, though. Cordelle has greater diversity in his models, including older subjects (as old as 94), all kinds of body types (even obese and anorexic females), and multiple races [note 3]. For instance, several African-American girls and women are part of Cordelle’s portfolio. Sturges, on the other hand, tends to concentrate on young girls and young women with slender and tall bodies who are light-skinned and of western European ancestry, with very few exceptions.
Cordelle only photographs females, and Sturges usually does too but has on rare occasions photographed boys.
Police that have viewed Cordelle’s exhibit in any state he’s been in have never charged him with any crime, whereas Sturges was accused of making child pornography by the FBI.
Also significant is the fact that only Sturges has had sex with his models.
In the last several years, Cordelle has continued to exhibit his work at venerable institutions across the United States, including, from 2008 to 2010, Denison University, the College of William and Mary, East Stroudsburg University, Rhodes College, the University of Louisville, and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
The 2009 exhibit in Wilmington, unlike the others, was censored since the university officials there refused to allow the photos of minors to be shown. Ironically, the student bookstore was selling the uncensored book at the same time the censored exhibit was on, the student newspaper (The Seahawk) published photos of the minors on March 5th that year, and the university had exhibited all of the photos in 2002 without incident.
Some Americans publicly opposed his exhibits on the grounds that the photos might be “exploitative” and “objectifying” and that they could motivate men to engage in harmful sexual acts against children and women [notes 4,5,6,7,8,9,10].
In response, Cordelle said, “I think the fundamental flaw with a lot of men in our society is that they equate nudity with sex. There is no need to go to this extreme; the pictures are completely innocent… They are very non sexual.” [note 11] Cordelle opposes the idea that nudity is shameful.
His models defended his work by writing to the provost of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington to urge him to reverse his decision to censor the minors’ photos [note 12]. A female who had been photographed at the age of 14 wrote, “The experience was a wonderful one that was incredibly beneficial to my view of my body.” A female who had been photographed when she was 15 wrote, “The day I saw The Century Project was the day my own distorted view of my body started to heal.”
Mahogany Gamble posed for Cordelle at the age of 16. She told Lauren Gard of East Bay Express, “Seeing all of the photos actually helped me kind of realize the beauty of women in a way that I hadn’t before. Maybe not so much looking at my own picture — I think that brought up a lot of other things — but thinking about the project as a whole, and even seeing my mom’s pictures and going through the experience with her. I felt then, and I still feel, the very real strength that women have. It gave me a lot of confidence in myself.” [note 13]
In the book, Nora Stewart, who posed nude at 11, wrote, “For me, my naked bodie is normal; for me, my naked bodie is wild and free; for me, my naked bodie is being proud for who and what I am.”
If girls have no problem posing naked, I have no problem with them doing so. I think it’s harmful when outsiders try to interfere with and condemn projects like this. The models and their parents can make these decisions on their own. It’s not abusive to photograph a child or adolescent in the nude.
1. “Bodies and Souls: The Century Project” was published by Heureka Productions in Canada in 2006.
2. Nude & Natural, Autumn 2006; Art Monthly Australia, April 2009; Going Natural Magazine, Summer 2009.
3. “Art or exploitation?” by Julia Riesenberg in The Flat Hat, March 20, 2009, http://flathatnews.com/content/70300/art-or-exploitation
4. “Divisive nude photography show comes to the College” by Mike Crump in The Flat Hat, February 17, 2009, http://flathatnews.com/content/70001/divisive-nude-photography-show-comes-college
5. “Against The Century Project” by Dustin Crummett in Dog Street Journal, March 4, 2009, http://www.dogstreetjournal.com/story/4428
6. “Renowned nude photos banned by University of North Carolina at Wilmington” by Heureka Productions in PRNewswire, February 24, 2009, http://news.prnewswire.com/DisplayReleaseContent.aspx?ACCT=104&STORY=/www/story/02-24-2009/0004977445&EDATE=
7. “UNCW won’t allow nude photos of minors in art show” by John Staton in Star News Online, February 24, 2009, http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/20090224/ARTICLES/902240264/1050?Title=UNCW-won-t-allow-nude-photos-of-minors-in-art-show
8. “Exhibit censored, but book’s for sale” by Ben Steelman in Star News Online, February 25, 2009, http://blogs.starnewsonline.com/default.asp?item=2339614
9. “The Century Project sparks controversy at UNCW” by Jennie Klahre and Tyler Sparks in The Seahawk, March 5, 2009, http://media.www.theseahawk.org/media/storage/paper287/news/2009/03/05/News/The-Century.Project.Sparks.Controversy.At.Uncw-3659484.shtml
10. “Group protests exhibit of nude children as part of U of L health program” by Roger Alford, Associated Press, in The Courier-Journal, February 21, 2010, http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20100221/NEWS01/2210351/1008/NEWS01/Group+protests+exhibit+of+nude+children+as+part+of+U+of+L+health+program
11. “Artist upset UNCW is censoring nude photos of minors” by Laura Sinacori in WECT.com, March 3, 2009, http://www.wect.com/Global/story.asp?S=9934480&nav=menu157_2
12. “Protests over banned photos pour in to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington” by Heureka Productions in PRNewswire, March 2, 2009, http://news.prnewswire.com/DisplayReleaseContent.aspx?ACCT=104&STORY=/www/story/03-02-2009/0004981017&EDATE=
13. “What’s Wrong with This Picture? By confronting society’s greatest taboos, Oakland photographer Frank Cordelle has created something truly extraordinary” by Lauren Gard in East Bay Express, December 6, 2006, http://www.eastbayexpress.com/Issues/2006-12-06/news/feature_full.html