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Perverts in the shrubbery

Paul Walter is a longtime Webdiarist, self-described as middle-aged, who completed a Bachelor of Arts degree a couple of years ago as a mature age student. He has been masquerading here for the last two days as “Paul Walker” because of some email and password problems, which have now been resolved. However, his style was inimitable, so we knew who he was … Anyway, earlier today Paul made some comments about the brouhaha over Bill Henson’s allegedly pornographic photographs. I invited him to contribute a thread starter, and to my amazed delight he responded very promptly thus:

Don't know about a "small piece", but here are a few thoughts issuing forth at random concerning the time travellers’ return to the dark ages, also inspired by a visit to the Friends of SBS website an hour ago.

So, here it is. I think it's your debut piece for Webdiary, Paul - but whether or not it is, thank you. 

Perverts in the shrubbery
by Paul Walter

We shall dedicate the following to the now-sleeping Roland Barthes of "Mythologies" fame, as his famous tract continues its fifty-ish-ith anniversary.

At SBS, the writer discovered more concerning the perplexing stubborn ongoing refusal of the government to abide by election promises and remove deliberately intrusive advertising from SBS (has any one else been taken aback by the absolute lack of comment concerning ABC and SBS financing and independence over the last few months ... or the severity and rapidity of the decline of Fairfax and Murdoch?). So the theory that Rudd has spoken out of induced ignorance and resulting priggishness is strengthened, although the alternative theory relating to the damping down of a new front just opened by Devine in the Culture Wars on behalf of political allies encircled Stalingrad style still has much appeal. Now, I will add following thoughts.

The ALP is happy to inherit a dumbed down media surviving on prurience as factuality and where real issues are excluded, same as it is happy to inherit Howard's ASIO and weakened corporate law or IR provisions, for example.

For instance, the nerve shattering silence, except in terms of neo liberal boosterism concerning what the privatisation of NSW electricity is really about (Carr, "Vanuatu" Keating consultancies only mentioned in passing, etc ) – just one example. Thank heaven for Ian MacDougall’s exploration of this elsewhere. Richard Tonkin’s posts also constitute a long-term example posts of the forgotten art of broad sheet journalism, dealing with hard issues of equity, power and reality-shaping, ignored like the plague by mainstream press and media controlled by the likes of Ron Walker and Shaun Brown.

One sees Fairfax online following Murdoch subterranean of the gutter, now expending much space to urgent problems like the colour scheme of Myf Warhurst's knickers or the rampaging behaviours of female state school teachers vis à vis their male students.

In this sort of fevered environment, where "morals" are defined in terms of sexual behaviour exclusively, rather than through, say, financial corruption or moral sanctimoniousness, the Mirandas become rails runners for opinion dominance. And faux outrage over dubious artworks is just another obvious mode for distraction from real world issues.


I hear someone claiming that this writer is thus downgrading pedophilia as an issue?

No, just the opposite.

Of course it is not a minor issue. Therefore, it should not be cynically exploited as a culture wars stalking horse for other hidden agendas of political control through its (ab)use in the manipulating of the emotions and the offending the sensibilities of those with genuine concerns or who have been the real victims of abuse.

Look, this antic has provoked some intelligent comment in the op ed pages of the Age and SMH in response; for more involved investigation a visit is commended.

Back here, the Mirandas will have problems of contradiction as to their targets in what otherwise could have been a righteous war against commodification/reification of youth, as well as the separate problem of child sexual exploitation. But Dahvine painstakingly avoided mention of the lucrative field of endeavour in prurience worked intensely and daily throughout the media and press that also employs her, with her focus on a typical isolated soft "out sider" rightist target; the abstracted/abstract artist intellectual who is offside to "our" society by being more interested in examining its values than unthinkingly upholding them. Such an individual likely has intellectual concerns against prurience and such an attack is therefore likely libellous as well as misleading.

The one exception was Devine's helpful attack on Dolly magazine for its unconditional promoting of anal intercourse as a desired (de rigueur, if you like) behaviour option for thirteen year old girls, regardless of the health and pain/discomfort factors for participating fashionistas.

But even here, we ask are we examining an unexamined system and its underlying imperatives, or indulging in de facto legitimisation of that system by creating an impression that Dolly is just an isolated atypical example of component failure rather than the system exemplar?


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Eliot is onto something

Eliot is onto something here . The smut that emanates from tabloid media is far more blatant than Henson's stuff and that's every hour of every day of every week.

And yes, it was interesting to see Turnbull reveal something of himself; be a little candid in the way Bob Hawke used to be. Unusual for politicians.

BTW great post from Fiona to really culminate this point in the debate. I don't think she’s any traitor to anything, and same for anyone else who has contributed to this discussion, given its tricky balance as a topic.

Your comments have been noted and admired

Richard Tonkin, if not responded to.

I suggest that the naked romps around a sprinkler are healthy and normal in our society.

I would compare it with the difference between children playing "dress-ups", and the  repellent "beauty pageants" that we saw the tragic Jon-Benet involved in, in which tiny girls are not only dressed as women, but taught to ape flirtatious and provocative facial expresssions and bodily movements.

Fiona: I endorse your remarks heartily, F Kendall, and also applaud all those brave males who have entered into this debate on both sides of the argument.

Fiona, profound thanks

Fiona, profound thanks for the legislation and interpretation.  Amidst all the furore there has been little explanation of the actual issue.  It appears that Henson would be found not guilty. What an unholy mess if what Michael says is true (and I do not question his veracity) and this was the result of a bad publicity campaign.

it was also heartening to read the complaints from Kids Free 2B Kids.  This is the kind of stuff that I'm talking about that still appals me more than Henson's work.  Transforming juveniles into facsimiles of promiscuous adults for the sake of making money is reprehensible, and far more deserving of the public outrage we have seen over the last week. 

The rake's progress


Fiona: "So in the end it comes down to this. Has a child under the age of 14 years been used for pornographic purposes by reason of having been placed in a sexual context? If not, there is no offence. ...."

I think that many less learned in the law, such as myself, would call such an outcome "getting off on a technicality". That description would also no doubt be debatable. As I see it, the social and political consequences would then be straightforward.

First, pornographers would exploit it to the full in their own interest. Next, politicians would come under pressure from concerned parents, and would proceed to a bidding war as to who was toughest on protection of children, knowing that parental concerns for such will always trump freedom of artists to pursue their muses in whatever direction they may choose. Curtains will be rung down on exhibitions and the hatches generally bolted down tighter until such pornography is out of public sight again. You are partly right to invoke the Taliban, as that organisation claimed to be acting in the public interest, by protecting the people from contamination by Buddha statues, unholy books, female literacy etc. But only partly.

Richard: "It appears that Henson would be found not guilty. What an unholy mess if what Michael says is true (and I do not question his veracity) and this was the result of a bad publicity campaign". 

For some entrepreneurs and artistes, note, there is no such thing as bad publicity.

The slippery slope

Ian M, I sympathise with your slippery slope argument. It's the same situation with the great press freedom debate. The broad sheet journos want freedom to explore real issues but the tabloids just want greater licence to smear with impunity under the banner of freedom of the press.

Re your "technicalities” comment, as to technicalities "allowing for too much latitude", isn't the reverse true in the specific case of Henson himself? They are getting him on a possible failure to observe the outward form of the porn laws whilst, in this singular case, the accused likely is consciously refuting pornography or its connotations, through his art. Such is life, I know.

I truly believe he has not been attempting pornography in the commonly appreciated sense, but an artistic discourse. I find the photos I have seen not really erotic in the way I'd find even a Kylie Minogue cheesecake effort in the Tele (please, anyone thinking of coming back with “Minogue is not a child”, don't bother: am talking about eroticism, not age).

Others appear to feel differently, although not many are men, who are the alleged problem as to matters sexual.

A traitor to my sex

As I understand it, the NSW police are considering laying charges under Section 91G of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW). I have extracted the relevant portions of the legislation below. Section 91H contains definitions and defences to the offences under Section 91G. The added emphasis is to indicate those portions of the legislation that I suspect may be most relevant to the present matter:

91G Children not to be used for pornographic purposes

(1) Any person who:

(a) uses a child who is under the age of 14 years for pornographic purposes, or

(b) causes or procures a child of that age to be so used, or

(c) having the care of a child of that age, consents to the child being so used or allows the child to be so used,

is guilty of an offence.

Maximum penalty: imprisonment for 14 years.

(3) For the purposes of this section, a child is used by a person for pornographic purposes if:

(a) the child is engaged in sexual activity, or

(b) the child is placed in a sexual context, or

(c) the child is subjected to torture, cruelty or physical abuse (whether or not in a sexual context),

for the purposes of the production of pornographic material by that person.

91H Production, dissemination or possession of child pornography

(1) Definitions In this section:

"child pornography" means material that depicts or describes, in a manner that would in all the circumstances cause offence to reasonable persons, a person under (or apparently under) the age of 16 years:

(a) engaged in sexual activity, or

(b) in a sexual context, or

(c) as the victim of torture, cruelty or physical abuse (whether or not in a sexual context).

(4) Defences It is a defence to any charge for an offence under subsection (2) or (3):

(c) that, having regard to the circumstances in which the material concerned was produced, used or intended to be used, the defendant was acting for a genuine child protection, scientific, medical, legal, artistic or other public benefit purpose and the defendant’s conduct was reasonable for that purpose, …

So in the end it comes down to this. Has a child under the age of 14 years been used for pornographic purposes by reason of having been placed in a sexual context? If not, there is no offence. However, if a court were to find that the photographs did depict the child in a sexual context, the defendant(s) could argue that the photographs were produced for a genuine artistic purpose. The legislation does not contain a definition of “sexual context”. I am of the opinion that an argument that nude does not equal sexual might well succeed, given that prurience is so often in the eye of the beholder. If I am correct, then there is no offence and the 12-year-old’s parents would have been capable of giving consent to a legal activity – just as any parent can with respect to school excursions, participation in sports, and (my own field) to a child’s participation in research. Moreover, the 12-year-old might be regarded as a “mature minor”, that is, as having Gillick competence (the ability of a child aged under 16 to consent to medical treatment without parental knowledge) and thus also able to consent in his or her own right. (The Gillick principle also applies in Australia: Secretary, Department of Health and Community Services v JWB and SMB (Marion´s case) (1992), 175 CLR 218.)

No doubt Malcolm B Duncan, or some other lurking legal eagle, will shoot me down in flames – after all, it’s a long time since I had to interpret a statute. However, that is the legal position as I understand it with regard to (a) child pornography, and (b) the question of consent.

Earlier today I opened my copy of New Matilda, and found an article by James Davis, On purity and shame. Davis writes:

Hetty Johnson from the anti-child abuse group Bravehearts was on TV tonight. She said that the one in five people who have been abused as a child were angry at the Bill Henson exhibition.

I am one such person for whom she claims to speak. I was abused, but I am not angry at Bill Henson. I am saddened by those who would shut him up. If they succeed, they advance one step further, after so many steps in the last decade, in relegating young lives to a "purity" and innocence far removed from reality. It is a false and enforced purity that disempowers the young, but which the spin of modern politics requires that we all support.

It is in the cloistered purity of childhood and family or school that most child abuse takes place. Unknowing of their own position, scared to speak up about it, and shamed by what might be happening to them, children can not speak - they are not supposed to know of these things, and indeed often do not and so can not speak. The message now being sent loud and clear during the controversy over Bill Henson's art is that their bodies are pornographic: further reason to be quiet.

As I look at Bill Henson's work from a distance (since it is now hard to find), it would seem to give expression to real experience, and allow things to be said that I wish I had been able to say as a boy.

Hetty Johnson may be a brave heart, but her puritanical campaign has the potential to expand the circle of silence in which child abuse occurs. I know that as a boy becoming a man in the early 1980s I was completely denied the right to speak about my sexuality and in so doing could not bring myself to speak about abuse perpetrated upon me. This is my story.

I wept as I read it – I hope you will also take the time to read the full story.

Yes, we must protect our children. We can best do that by making them proud of their bodies, and teaching them that no-one, not even their closest relatives, has the right to touch them in unacceptable ways. We must teach them that if anyone touches their genital areas they should tell us at once, even if they have promised not to tell, even if they have been threatened. We must be vigilant about pedophiles, and not hide them because they are in positions of power, or mates, or such nice people that they couldn’t possibly behave like that.

We must also continue the battle against corporate paedophilia. Julie Gale, director of Kids Free 2B Kids, writes:

Why is it that "artistic" images of a young girl have created such uproar, and yet sexualised images of children in the advertising, media and clothing industries remain effectively unchallenged? Have we become so desensitised that we only respond to overt nakedness?

Bill Henson used his skills and experience to create photographs which are considered to have artistic merit. The corporate world utilises sophisticated techniques and big dollars to create their marketing and advertising images. They are very adept at manipulating us, and we have failed to recognise the impact on our children.

It is certainly easier to target an individual than take on a big corporation, and that’s one of the reasons "they" have got away with too much for too long. We can demand accountability from Bill Henson the artist, the individual – but who is accountable in the ubiquitous corporate world where the notion of "individual" is lost?

  • Who made the decision to put the song Ooh I am so sexy, soft and smooth on a Barbie CD for little girls?
  • Who decided that the "woman" in the Premature Ej-culation and Er-ction Problems billboard should look 14 years old?
  • Who decided that playboy t-shirts were a good idea for Girlfriend magazine to give away?
  • Who decided to put the wallpaper ads for mobile phones in Dolly magazine that read "I’m a good girl dressed in the body of a slut" and "Save a virgin do me instead"? These magazines are read by 9–13 year olds.
  • Who decided that soft pornographic music video clips are acceptable for P and PG time slots where children have every right to be viewing?
  • Who decided that a blowup doll titled "Granny I’d like to F-ck" is fine for kids to view in a chain store that markets to children, and is the ‘Official Home of the Beanie Kids’ stuffed toys?
  • Who decides that it’s ok to flog push-up bras and skimpy undies for little girls?
  • Who decides that it’s acceptable to make young kids look way too grown up and adult-like in catalogues?

Again, the full article is worth reading.

So it’s not a case of all the women being on the same side here, Jenny. I’ll also now make explicit what I was hinting at in my first comment on this thread: I do think it is conceivable (even if not likely) that the child protection at any cost attitude may end with at least some of us (the females) being forced to “cover up” at all times for fear of being placed in a sexual context. Which sounds very like the Taliban to me.

Parted we stand on this

I do think it is conceivable (even if not likely) that the child protection at any cost attitude may end with at least some of us (the females) being forced to “cover up” at all times for fear of being placed in a sexual context. Which sounds very like the Taliban to me.

Now it is not often you write what is to me nonsense Fiona but I do consider that to be in that realm. Though I admit it could become a reality if radical Islam became the norm in this country. But go down that path here and see what response you get.

So on the issue of those photos we stand parted it must seem. You are not a traitor to your sex - catchy heading though I must admit - but you are an exception amongst the ladies here.  

I think the list above of the sins of the ubiquitous corporate world tells us exactly why the sort of stuff this artist has presented as art should not be acceptable. Nor should any of that stuff either. The more you accept indecent and degrading material aimed at our children the more standards are lowered. It is never too late to take a stand even if it is only against one individual. And the corporate world could be pulled into line if the Government displayed a bit of guts on the issue.  I won't hold my breath though.

About this from David: The message now being sent loud and clear during the controversy over Bill Henson's art is that their bodies are pornographic:

What utter rubbish. The message being sent is quite the opposite.

If they succeed, they advance one step further, after so many steps in the last decade, in relegating young lives to a "purity" and innocence far removed from reality. It is a false and enforced purity that disempowers the young, but which the spin of modern politics requires that we all support.

Well if one was sexually abused in childhood one could understand that viewpoint, but fortunately the majority of children are not so abused. And I cannot see how allowing what to me are pornographic photos of a young girl can advance the cause of child protection.

I thank my parents for protecting me from the dark side of human nature, made easier no doubt because this sort of stuff was not publicly peddled or tolerated when I was a child, thus allowing me to enjoy a childhood of purity and innocence.

I would consider that innocence invaded if I had been subjected to photos of the Henson kind and the sort of corporate paedophilia as described above. It is never too late to act to get this sort of stuff out of our childrens' lives.

Reading your legal opinion you are probably right. Henson will probably get away with this stuff. If he does the law clearly needs a re-write and it should at the same time rein in the corporate world. Time to act.

Still blaming Rudd, Eliot?

You are choosing the wrong targets, Eliot, to blame for a "witch hunt".

Kevin Rudd has made a statement which is well within his bounds as PM but I believe he used the wrong words. Morris Iemma has done likewise but who cares what he thinks anyway. The Arts Minister Peter Garrett wisely hasn't bought into the debate especially if charges follow. And Malcolm Turnbull has made an ass of himself no matter what people think as the majority of Australians will not side with the art crowd on this issue.

The police have to act on a complaint and will only place charges after consulting the DPP. It isn't a case of what they wish or don't wish to do; they will have to apply the law if it is applicable in this case.

And despite the common belief that Hetty Johnson made the original complaint, I'm here to tell you it emanated from within the gallery itself as a publicity stunt that has badly backfired.

This debate is really stirring things up and going to have long reaching results which is why I say it's the debate we had to have. The implications for the media and large retailers are immense considering their sustained campaign, over the past 15 years or so, of "sexualising" young children for profit.

Lovely as she is and as great an actress she may be, Cate Blanchett and crew aren't grasping what is at stake here. It's not just about Henson and his art or non-art (whatever your choice.)

Perverts in the shrubbery and the Mirandas of the world indeed! When is this debate going to shift to other offenders like a variety of News Ltd newspapers that promote on one hand the notion there is a perve behind every light pole waiting to snatch your child, but happily run bare breasted Page 3 models in skimpy school uniforms in the UK Sun newspaper ?.

And there are hundred such hypocrisies and few media organisations are exempt.

The arts crowd should be grasping the opportunity for the genuine debate that Henson has ignited. Instead they are doing the very opposite and trying to stifle rather than provoke thought.

People are different

Hi Kath, just posted a question to you over at Caz's; how coincidental. Last I saw of the Potomac was when Scott was heading your way in it (after they repossessed and sold it to him.) Hope he didn't bend it, nah hope he did.

But to answer your question re my daughter, - nah, would have never allowed her to pose naked when she was 12 or so but she was photographed by a professional photographer friend of mine quite often over her teen years (in clothes).

In this electronic day and age it is best not to create possible problems for children who may regret the decisions and or encouragement of others, especially parents who may be motivated for reasons of their own; eg the stage mother who will quite often compromise their children's welfare to compensate for their own disappointments. I've witnessed this and the confusion (and depression) it creates in children.

Best to be safe than sorry, especially where kids are concerned.

Many a famous actress has regretted having nude photos taken in their earlier days. Not so much the photos themselves but how others used same to belittle and embarrass them. 

Having said that I personally feel the naked (female) body is not sexually arousing, quite often beautiful but to me not a turn on. Just spend some time (about 5 minutes) at Swanbourne and the naked body soon becomes what it is - just a naked body, an object of form and shape. Yes, a work of art, not simply a sexual object.

In fact I would argue the naked body can actually be perverted by clothes. That which is hidden is something mysterious and leaves one wondering and wanting to satisfy ones (sexually motivated) curiosity. Many women know this well and present themselves in a manner that is intended to exploit men's curiosity.

Usually when superficial curiosity has been satisfied the opportunity arises for a relationship to become more balanced, genuine, honest and multidimensional, the relationship becomes deeper, creamier and rewarding in many mutual ways.

 I've come to conclude that porno has it place, and for some can benefit a relationship. However , all in all I feel the greater majority of human beings would be far better off if it never existed, but that is another discussion altogether.

In short nudity in itself, no matter what age, is OK, but the development of human sexuality and sexual morality allows all types of exploitation by those who have very personal and selfish agendas.

I have never known a young child to feel at all uncomfortable being naked, it's just that their parents teach them it is not socially acceptable. Usually our children soon become just like us and that is exactly what we set out to do.

This topic is indeed a complex one and to me something that now concerns me little, after many years of life and love I know what is good and what is not good - for me at least.

People are different, and that is what we have to come to terms with. If one's sexuality does no harm to others then I couldn't give a rats what they do, who they do or how they do it.

so far not so good after all

Hey y'all,

My understanding is that the charge will be brought under the NSW Crimes Act and it relates to the age of the subjects used in producing the images.  It appears that some interpretation of the images will be necessary after all as 'obscenity' may well be a condition of the charge.

If the images are found to be obscene and/or pornographic then the issue of parental consent hinges on the fact that parents cannot give such consent on behalf of the child.  Australia is a signatory to a UN declaration or charter on the rights of children which prohibits the use of children for such purposes.

I am familiar with Henson's work and have been for some time. I did go to his retrospective at the AGNSW some years ago. Sick stuff then and sick stuff now.  I think his work is shit especially in comparison with the work of someone like Fiona Hall  whose recent retrospective at the MCA in Sydney is simply brilliant.  My view of Henson's work is that it is merciless exploitation of vulnerable children whose parents are simply too stupid, vapid or too caught up in their own precious bourgeois aesthetics to be able to apprehend the sleaze factor at the centre of Henson's aesthetic.

 So, why bring the charges now?  Well, let's see: the DPP employs someone who gets busted for having 30,000 images of child porn on his hard drive.  Wouldn't have influenced his thinking on prosecutions at all would it?  Not bloody much it wouldn't! 

 Time for the DPP to find just one prosecutor capable of running a case on child abuse.  And a high profile one at that too. Get it? 

 As for censorship in general - well, I'm not against it.  I don't think snuff movies ought to be available under any circumstances, for example.  I do think that Passolini's Salo ought to be unbanned because it is a brilliant attack on capital, the corrupt state and the church.  Same with the film Romance which I managed to see before it was banned.

But...sexually exploitative images of children (remember, these are images for sale and display) ... well, why would you want them anyway?

Thank you Anthony, Justin and Ian

Thank you for treating this subject with the seriousness it deserves. It takes a brave man around here to call those images sick Anthony. Don't you realise they are art man, just art. 

Now let us see if you three guys cop the same ridicule and scorn we women did for saying this so called art falls outside what is acceptable to those concerned about the exploitation of children.


"But...sexually exploitative images of children (remember, these are images for sale and display)...well, why would you want them anyway?"

Good question Anthony! Very, very good question.

Eat your heart out Rorschach

Fiona,"bamboo stylii"  - don't know about you Fiona but that sounds disgusting.

Jenny, "It is just so boring." - there you go, sheesh, can't leave sex outa anything.

Scott - I noticed Elizabeth Farrelly used your joke today.

Posing a question.

Hey Justin!   How the hell are ya?  Did you manage to get the potomac back my love?

I have a question to ask  all Webdiarists  If you had a 12 year old daughter (as I do) would you be happy for her to pose in such positions?

 Shut your eyes and imagine an adult female in the same pose.

Won't know until it happens, Kathy

Kathy, Jenny asked as similar question before.  To reiterate.  If it was somebody like Henson, with what I considered appropriate philosophies and morals, and my daughter was keen on the idea after lenghty discussion, and knew she could stop the project at the slightest whim, then I would consider the idea.  Until such a situation arises, that's the best I can do. 

I like to think that I will deal with any moral issues appropriately when I need to.  it seems to be working so far, in spite of my being a male.  And I will protect my daughter unto death.

... not that I wasn't tricked into earrings at eight, and I was bloody furious.

Does anyone own a porn-O-graph?

Golly gee, I've been flying elsewhere for a while now and on my return to WD I first suspected this thread was all about moi, an old perv from way back; on looking closer it would appear it is only about a difference of opinion.

Unfortunately I don't own a porn-O-graph (and if I did I wouldn't know how to operate it anyway) which disqualifies me from viewing the offending photograph, which I have read is of a naked girl of tender years.

Is nudity revolting? Is nudity pornography? Is nudity disgusting?

As many of you should know this old albatross has been naked since I broke out of my shell, just like my mum and dad. As a matter of fact none of us albatrosses wear clothes, never have. Same goes for the rest of our world's creatures, except humans.

When I went to albatross school we were taught the wackiest creatures on Earth were human beings. We were also taught they are the most violent and irrational and hypocritical.

I doubt that proof is necessary.

We do understand that humans are rather confused with the sex thing and find it curious they spend so much time engaged in discussions and arguments about said activity.

Is this an obsession?

Human sexuality is used for all sorts of things but rarely for the purpose it was intended; making babies. It appears most humans just like to practise or pretend and do whatever they can not to make babies.

And when they do make babies it is usually accidental and somewhat of an inconvenience. But humans use sex for all sorts of things especially selling: selling cars, food, appliances, clothes, guns and anything that has nothing whatsoever to do with sex.

The overriding concern of contributors to this thread appears to be the welfare of the young lass in question (and rightly so), but this is curious for the photograph of the young girl in question has been described as "revolting", "disgusting", "pornographic" - this must do her self-esteem heaps of good, but I'm sure all those who say these things do so for her welfare and not their personal agendas.

Sometimes it is best to simply shut up.

Yes, human sexuality is curious, psychologically complicated and creates heaps of conflict amongst the race. Maybe one day humans will work it all out but it the mean time we non human creatures will leave them to it.

BTW where can one buy a porn-O-graph and instructions how to use it? Or is a porn-O-graph just a thing of the mind.

Anyway I'm outa here to find a naked human like statue to s(h)it on. My parents told me for some unknown reason some humans like that sort of thing; now try and work that one out.

Fiona: The problem with porn-O-graphs, Justin, is that you can't get the bamboo stylii any more.

Objects don't view art, nor make choices.

Jenny Hume: "But as I said the men here simply don't get it."

Tell that to Cate Blanchett, the models, their mothers and countless other women disgusted at at the bigoted, reactionary opinions of the Prime Minister, Minister for Arts, State Premier, Police and other men driving the witch hunt.

It was the same with the hysteria over "satanic ritual abuse" that I mentioned. Any suggestion that evidence of such a phenomenon may be required was immediately scorned by the witch-hunters as complicity with the patriarchy.

They just "knew" what was happening.

Marilyn: "Now we expect that our daughters and grand-daughters should suffer the same degradation because some wanker calls it "art"?

Neither the models nor their consenting parents see the works as "objectification" nor "degrading".

That's your personal, subjective opinion only. You are projecting it on to the artworks.

Indeed, it is the hysterics who would deny those involved in the artworks as models and artists their right to choose are reducing the models - male and female - to objects incapable of making choices for themselves.

It's The Argument We Had To Have

I've never seen a Henson photo except for the censored version in newspapers which frankly tend to give them a definite pornographic look with those black stripes.

What I did think was inexcusable at the beginning of this very argument was that the media chose to show the faces of the 12/13 years olds involved instead of pixillating them.

Marilyn is correct - a 12 or 13 year is in 99% of cases is probably incapable of understanding any long term effects that agreeing to such work may have upon them.

Legally their parents shouldn't  (and I doubt have - but these pics may pre-date some laws) have permission to hand their children to anyone for any reason - they don't own their children's bodies.

Whether any harm has actually been done cannot be estimated at this point.  Has anyone ever done any research into whether nude photography (as opposed to awful intrusive pornographic rape style stuff) had long term effects upon children or young adults? I doubt it has.

The problem is that the majority of people tend to lump the two together. One well known crime writer (News Ltd) had a real go at me once for questioning this very fact as he had uncovered some ignored victims of pedophile rape, published their stories which had brought the perpetuators to justice.

That was highly commendable. Buit he then morphed that into an interview with four young teens who had posed for a pornographer in a different case -their tales of woe (and claims for state compensation) and concluded  that they spoke for the entire world.  I said it was a conclusion impossible to reach on such a tiny sampling.

Rudd put his view badly by using the term "revolting" in that he was talking about children. I agree with him though. In this world where children are targeted so ruthlessly by marketeers who wish to sell young girls bras they don't yet need, or bombast young tots into badgering their mothers about junk food and toys, I think kids should just be left to be kids for as long as possible.  Garrett is wise to stay silent over a matter that may become a court case and Malcolm Turnbull backing Henson today has shown - no matter what people think of the whiole matter - why he will never make PM.

I'd still question the whole status of today's art world which has dramatically changed over the past 50 years or so. I happened to be an afternoon drinker for several years with the painter Francis Bacon in a small Soho bar. To visit the man in his studio where he lived and painted you would think he was a pauper but even then his paintings were selling for half a million pounds. When he died he left an estate of nearly $200M but lived in one room his whole life.

I was also commissioned to by the manager of New York artist Andy Warhol. to arrange a Sydney visit. One gallery I approached was the one hosting the Bill Henson exhibition (then in a different location) and was basically given a frosty reception mainly due to the financial arrangements (I'm sure they have been kicking themselves since as it was 6 months before he died) .

Art is certainly in the eye of the beholder as is said so many times but there is a cheque book there as well today.

We could look at hundreds of the greatest artists and sculptors of past eras who lived lives of poverty and produced works of great beauty. Art today is big business and there is a lot of complete b/s being pedalled at present under the guise of defending the hapless Henson.

One lady put it succinclty on one of those silly morning shows today:

What is the difference between art and pornography? A government grant.


Christine Spiteri and others at Channel 9 are suing and writing books about being turned into objects.

While some of the worst offenders here are supporting Henson and his weird art they are guilty of censorship and objectification of a young girl.

We grown up women fought back against the sexist bull we were subjected to for decades, hell I was branded a lesbian at 14 because I had a Mia Farrow crewcut, and still do.

Now we expect that our daughters and grand-daughters should suffer the same degradation because some wanker calls it "art"?

Been there, done that.

Fiona: Marilyn, I have deleted the first part of your post because it was off-topic.

Garrett, Farrelly and others

Much has been made of Peter Garrett and the Elizabeth Farrelly article, which is a gem. Also liked the tongue in cheek comment from Aaron Timms about not first "...gaining permission from certain low pressure systems beyond the south coast..."(not verbatim).

As for Garrett, he has actually done well in doing what his leader should have had the wit to do, in shutting his mouth and avoiding making uninformed, knee jerk comments about things he knew nothing about.

If Rudd was not going to express horror concerning things like the social pornography that is the Iemma government, he should not have then cherry picked the complex Henson issue through his politicians instinct for a sound bite, to regain favour with a sulking, spoilt mortgage belt encouraged back to victimhood/entitlement by the Glen Milne level gutter tabloid press and media into sulking over petrol prices for their gas guzzlers.

Finally, briefly:

Jenny Hume, you are indeed allowed to express your opinion. As am I in querying it if doesn't seem right to me. Are you actually surprised when some folk challenge mere opinion when it is passed off as fact? Talk about sugar-plum fairies!

Fiona, of course I am entitled to speculate concerning who/what "F Kendall", or any one else is, or is about, who identifies themselves through noms de plume or euphemisms. What they are likely trying to hide, as to their own agendas on issues, if they can't take responsibility for their work up front, by putting their name to it?

Remember that is why we offer our names up front at WD rather than hiding behind false identities. Probably to hide hidden agendas.

Richard: Not always, Paul. As you know noms de plume are allowed if the contributor has what we consider to be a valid reason.

Fiona: And in any event, F Kendall is not a nom de plume. It's up to F Kendall to decide whether or not to disclose F Kendall's gender, although if you read one of F's recent posts carefully (and I know that you have read it) you should be able to work it out for yourself.

The nudes on our front bar walls

Paul Walter, have you noticed them when you've been in?  There's a huge full-frontal oil painting over the fireplace, and about 15 blown up French postcards, 20s erotica and some topless, in the pool room.

Mum collected and placed them.  I haven't heard a complaint in ten years.

Most people don't even notice what they are.

Am I supposed to pull them down now?

Chloe and cold showers.

You're legally obliged to provide your patrons with asbestos mittens, in the cause of an elevated public morality and tone.

Tremble shiver and remember:

"If thine left eye offend thee;
pluck it out
If thine right hand offend thee;
cut it off"

Hysteria and rubbish

Amazing really. The womens' voices here, standing up for the protection of children are attacked as hysterical, or else the commentor just resorts to rubbish. You will just have to try harder boys if you want to get the girls to change their views coz you are not very convincing.

But I will just leave you to it. It is just so boring.

Sexism and legislation

Before I start getting testy about some commenters repeatedly dividing this discussion along gender viewpoints, which I do find incredibly insulting and am starting to take personally, in that it implies that I as a man am not trying to protect the rights of our children, I will look at this from another angle.

Has anybody read the legislation? I haven't – that's why I'm asking. When was the right of the parent to assess such a situation taken away? Are photos of my child dancing topless under a sprinkler on a summer's day illegal, and I wrong if I'd allowed such a thing to happen?

I didn't realise that we parents, especially us males, are not capable of caring for our children, and deciding on what environments are appropriate. I have just backspaced two attempts at a next sentence, so shall stop now. Except maybe to say that if "the men" had made such a sexist insinuation we would have been shouted down in the first attempt, let alone the second.

Justin, glad to see the winds have steered you our way again.

Now Richard

Now Richard, I am not suggesting you or any other male here cannot protect their daugters, but the responses here from many of the males to the comments by the female posters I have found sexist, verbally aggressive and offensive. And when that doesn't work they resort to ridicule. But we women are used to that sort of thing. It is nothing new.

I do not find ridicule on a subject of this nature very appropriate either. 

Child exploitation is a very real issue in this day and age, probably more than it ever was with children exposed through the net to all sorts of risks they would never have encountered without it.  That means we have to more vigilant than ever. These days putting a picture or photo on a gallery wall does not mean that is where it will remain. So the argument that they were confined to viewing in an art gallery only by art lovers does not hold up. It was on the net that I was able to access the one on the Newcastle site anyway. I found it quite disturbing that any child's picture could be displayed in that way for the whole world to view. Children these days have no control over where the images are posted but clearly the men here who defend this stuff as art do not see that as a problem. And I say men because opposition and support for this stuff here has fallen along gender lines.  

When society lowers the standards of decency where children are concerned, then ultimately children will pay the price.  I believe those photos did that. I think Kevin Rudd was quite right in his description of them and I don't often agree with him as you know.

If anyone had suggested he or she take photos of that nature of my daughter under the banner of art, whether with her consent or not, I would have done what Marilyn said: Called the police.

Mississippi branch of the Ku Klux Klan

Richard:  " If I were him I wouldn't be too happy. "

Well, as I said to Fiona, they are at least uniting the country - in dismay.

Actually, the whole weird history of moral panics over images is fascinating. Certain trends recur in every phase of these things - including oddball contradictions regarding whether images "excite" people (especially young people) or "pacify" them (again, especially young people).

So, you'll have the argument that "videos" or "rock music" or the "internet" or "magazines" simultaneously "excite" young people into "commiting crimes" but simultaneously make them "docile coach potatoes" and "pliant putty" in the hands of the media.

 That people swept up in the hysteria keep shifting ground on empirical claims about just what images are supposed to "do" - first one thing, then the other - and whether art is the 'same" as "pornography" or not - or whether pornography is "the issue" or "not" - as opposed to "informed consent", "cultural standards', or whatever else - all suggests that they're projecting a host of anxieties onto the media or other cultural forms in question.

I saw the same, mad hysteria engulf Illawarra Area Health Service and South West Area Health over "satanic ritual abuse" a  few years ago.

Most bizarre thing I've ever seen. Till now.

Stupid community nurses and half-baked social workers running around like fools trying to uncover torture chambers with dead babies in them at Kingsgrove and Dapto.

All along, they claimed the "know what we know" and any call for evidence, even a single dead baby or ritual chamber, was abjured on the sure grounds that if you needed evidence, then you were probably a perpetrator yourself.

All this hysteria is making us look like complete fools overseas.

Imagine if this was happening in Alabama or Mississippi, coupled with the inane scenes like those outside Camden Town Hall last night.

What next? The Ku Klux Klan?

Richard: We had a pagan-baby-sacrifice story in the papers here in the eighties.  Knowing many pagans, I know exactly what you mean.

cognitive dissonance

Well said Eliot, a projection of anxiety is exactly what the hysteria is and it drowns out reasoned discussion quickly and effectively. Based in emotion it does indeed seem to fade as quickly as it arises but the danger of it leaving behind legal, cultural and public policy damage is real. Particularly if it is used by more savvy political types to cover for, and further, their own agendas.

We see the same double think with regard to drugs and of course it's always present when a country is being prepared for war. The enemy is both insidious, powerful and frightening yet also because of their moral inferiority etc will be a pushover in an actual war.

In a postmodern world of spin and opinion polls, not to mention fear of "elites", the politicians are far too inclined to cave in to such hysteria.

Optimistically can we at least hope contemporary Australia does now boast a significant and large ballast of the liberally minded, one sufficient to ride storms like this out. Before 1972 it was all about fleeing to London from the cultural desert. Then again those thinking of returning now Howard has gone may be have been given pause for thought.

Mini-skirts excite rapists

Richard Tonkin says:

"Eliot, actually I feel sorry for Garrett.  He's been used for electoral publicity value and then gagged."

Unless he's hankering for a Parliamentary pension or something, there's nothing to stop him crossing the floor.  Richard: With Labor, isn't that grounds for party expulsion?   Sure, he doesn't have the brains or backbone of a Barnaby Joyce, granted, but then you don't have to be Winston Churchill, either.

If there's one standpoint as Arts Minister he could burn a bit of Midnight Oil over, you'd think it would be artistic independence.

The rubbish being peddled about art exciting pedophiles is about as morally defensible and utterly illogical as the claim that mini-skirts excite rapists.

It would be the very thing as Arts Minister that Garrett could take a principled stand on, if he had any principles.

Totally in Rudd's pocket. Sickening.

Richard:  He's said he won't comment while inquiries are proceeding.  Standard ministerese for "I've been told to shut up."   Not exactly getting a great run with environment, either.  If I were him I wouldn't be too happy.

Just don't get it

The rubbish being peddled about art exciting pedophiles is about as morally defensible and utterly illogical as the claim that mini-skirts excite rapists.

No Eliot, if you believe the opposition to those photos is about exciting pedophiles then no, you really don't get it.  

Points for consideration

I am sorry I don’t have time to respond directly to many of the interesting comments on this thread. I did enjoy the contextual comments given by Michael de Angelos and Eliot Ramsey’s points on NSW Labor hypocrisy were telling.

However I was surprised to see so many who can yield so quickly to those who demand the constraint of free expression in the “public good”. I have not seen the photos so cannot judge whether they are “revolting”, but I would note that this may also be a useful and good effect produced by art.

I would like to offer some points to consider

a) The category mistake – different purposes different criteria.

Though massive energy is devoted to denying that capitalism is both a defining part of our society and also something distinct from our political freedoms and social lives it remains a fact that it is both of these. Thus we can reserve the right to judge similar outputs in different cultural contexts differently. A work of art is in a different category to a work of advertising or pornography. The latter two work according to quite different logics in terms of the their purpose and their aim. Inasmuch as they might contain aesthetic and critical aspects these are merely there to serve the purposes of arousal. Arousal in order to create a demand that will result in sales. In a work of art it is the other way around, capitalism might well mine art for its arousing capabilities, but being used to sell things is not its purpose.

Art has other purposes and seeks to stimulate ideas and create meaning that is not found in bank balances. It is true that capitalism (and most pornography is just a subset of the same logic in the modern context) does indeed seek to befoul many aspects of life for the purposes of commodification but there is no reason that we should yield to it and give up other aspects of our humanity, including the expressions of it that can be found in art. This is to undermine our freedom in its realms that are not just freedom to consume and freedom to vote. Moreover, art often explores sexuality, often as a subset of sensuality, but it is exploring it, not mining it for the utilitarian purposes of selling objects for profit.

Nakedness can shock, titillate, intrigue, and arouse a host of other emotions. Love, pity, wonderment, and yes sexual energy. An artist and work of art will frequently be both responding to, and attempting to corral or even structure, these responses. Art should not have complete carte blanche of course but it does have claims to a much larger space than we should allow those who just use bodies to arouse feelings that can be directed towards purchases.

b) Narrowing the gaze and creating stigma

Much is being made of the notion of consent, no doubt a fine legal point. Parents routinely give consent on their children’s behalf. We sometimes draw the line at what a parent can do but is this one? The decriers are putting forward notions of shame and disgust but aren’t they in fact thus imposing shame upon the young people who have been photographed. The “disgusted” are the ones insisting that the revelation of the body is always and only an explicitly sexual act opening one only to exploitation. Because a paedophile might see things through this lens must we all do so? Or for that matter all stand accused of doing so? This looks like moral panic, an hysteria that concedes massive power to the pornographer and paedophile. It does so in way similar to how the ridiculous, hysterical and fundamentalist reaction to terrorism has given people like Bin Laden a profile and power they neither deserve nor could hope to have generated by their ideas and perspectives alone. The advertising industry and the media are already working hand in glove with pornographers in imposing a porn aesthetic on our visible culture, this furore is actually pushing the view that teenage bodies are correctly perceived as always being within this aesthetic. That the effect and purpose of their bodies can only be crude sexual arousal. I don’t see why I, or more importantly teenagers, should have to tolerate that.

I would also think a strong argument can be made that if psychological damage is being done to the subjects of these photos it will be coming from the exposure to the social hysteria caused by them, not the actual act of being photographed naked. All-in-all the carry on stinks of the petit-bourgeois mindset of the mid last century. Maybe John Howard’s quest for a return of the repressed and repressors was more successful than we thought. Must we make such people a laughing stock once again? Is a re-run of the 1960s and 70s needed? Please the gods, no.

Another thought, is all this in part an outcome of the neuroses of the baby boomers as they grow old and can no longer hope to parade their flesh in rebellion while looking good at the same time?

c) the gender question

The feminist critique of the male gaze is lurking in the background always in these debates. Indeed this thread itself looks very gendered. If the feminist critique of this ilk is there I would prefer people made it more obvious, it has serious arguments that need to be addressed.

Henson pictures both young males and young females, yet the girl seems to being placed at the centre of the hysteria. No doubt both the male (tabloid) gaze and those who are offended by that gaze are playing a part in generating the hysteria. My short answer to the concerns such a feminist critque raises are probably found in similar arguments to those I made in (b) about creating shame and assuming only one vision of the body is possible. An unambiguous vision that then allows black and white judgements, and drawn lines to be made. Now the male gaze argument has a point but taken as a universal given, that all males look at females in one way, is reductive, simplistic and denies the complexity of humanity. Males may be more visually sexually arousable than females, and even this is a moot point, but they are neither entirely defined by this and nor is it entirely always a bad thing.

d) Pollies can no longer lead?

Finally there are the foolish knee jerk reactions of the Labor leaders, still wildly unwilling to lead (something we expect in an age of spin doctors), but also still caught in debates about social mores that are the natural home of the unthinking conservative. For Howard, for example, such debates were useful diversions and titbits (sic) for his rednecks, fundos and the blue rinse set. They were always good for pushing aside discussion of his socially divisive economic policies. And they were much grist to the mill of the right-wing tabloid media that provided Howard with a natural home. But what purpose these debates for Labor? Well, I suppose it might help push the focus on their economic policies out of the media but that would be a political mistake wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it? Mmmm…

Kids danced near naked at school. Got prize from nuns

Jenny Hume: "Angela, Kathy, F Kendall and Marilyn. We don't always agree on much, but on this I think we stand united. And for good reason. I saw enough of those images to know that they are unacceptable"

Unacceptable according to whose lights? Yours and yours alone? Or some special authority in the arts or child development?

And after you saw them, did you feel like you might commit an offense against a child somewhere?

Really, what are you so afraid will happen to these children, that's not entirely a figment of your imagination?

Cannot you control yourselves when you see certain images?

Jenny Hume: "BTW: No male poster here has come out and answered my question as to whether in the name of the art of dance it would be acceptable for these young girls to be dancing around naked on stage for the benefit of an audience."

I'm sorry. I didn't realise it was a serious question. I've seen Paul Mercurio and another dancer, a young woman, perform naked on stage in Daphnis and Chloe. Mind you, this was years ago when Paul was still young. And before Australia became a Christian Fundamentalist Republic.

The audience comprised a range of age groups and seemed fairly diverse. Nobody ran screaming from the theatre and I wasn't sexually attacked by anyone on the way through the lobby.

As for children performing naked, I've seen Aboriginal kids performing near naked right here in Sydney. They seemed fine to me. Afterwards, the head teacher of the local Catholic school presented them with a certificate. The parents applauded warmly.

The nuns didn't attack the boys, as far as I can recall.

To my surprise, and admittedly to a few raised eyebrows in the audience, a seventeen year old art student I know appeared dancing topless (apart from some body paint) in the Bondi Pavilion a  couple of years ago during a local cultural festival.

It didn't occur to her she needed anyone's permission. And she didn't bother mentioning in the event programme she might be naked from the waist up.

The next day I saw her serving coffees and cake at a bookshop and cafe set-up in Paddington.

She seemed fine, and none of the shop patrons attacked her.

The cake was a bit on the moist side for my tastes, but the coffee was excellent. I also bought a Don DeLillo novel which I enjoyed immensely.

Otherwise, everything was quite normal.

For me, the real question is whether the glut of cataclysmic hysteria over pedophiles supposedly lurking outside art galleries and theatres is symptomatic of a deeper, more fundamental social-psychological or cultural backwardness in Australia?

Or is it being deliberately manipulated by the Rudd government to keep attention off its admittedly disturbing and ever mounting record of failure, dishonesty, hypocrisy and incompetence?

I'll repeat my earlier prediction - a few years of Rudd will make people nostalgic for the Howard era.

And our present Arts Minsiter will be soon one of the most reviled figures in Australian political history.

In fact, even Labor supporters now increasingly loathe and detest him for his cowardice and brainlessness.

Dodging Eliot

Those remarks are generally just silly Eliot so I won't bother to engage with most of them. And in replying to my question re naked dancing and posing naked on stage I note you simply refer to a dancing topless seventeen year old, Paul Mercurio and some woman dancing naked. Hardly children Eliot. so you have dodged the question, and completely ignored the one about whether it would be acceptable in the name of art for those young girls to display themselves in the same way as in those photos in some sort of live sculpture.

And by the way the age at which one can vote is not the same as the age at which one can consent to sex or engage in activities of that kind as you also know, so why the point of saying the girl was a seventeen year old.

The men posting here just don't get it.  

For me, the real question is whether the glut of cataclysmic hysteria over pedophiles supposedly lurking outside art galleries and theatres is symptomatic of a deeper, more fundamental social-psychological or cultural backwardness in Australia?

Oh I see. Everything is acceptable provided it happens in a theatre or a gallery.  And of course the whole world is a stage and gallery now with the net, so anything is acceptable it would seem. You would see no problem seems in those photos being on the net for the whole world to gawk at? 

Sorry, but you make exceptions then the exceptions soon become the rule as you very well know.  As I understand it putting such there can still get you arrested, and rightly so. And putting them on public display in a gallery should be no different.

But as I said the men here simply don't get it.  And the attempt to somehow play this as just another religious fundamentalist intrusion into civil liberties is ridiculous. It has nothing to do with religion, but it has everthing  to do with the protection of children from sexual exploitation using the cover of art.

Pas la meme chose

Eliot, actually I feel sorry for Garrett.  He's been used for electoral publicity value and then gagged.  That might be a topic for another thread?  I agree with you that the Rudd government seems to be fast-tracking the kind of unpermissive society that I'd have more expect to come from the Libs.  Live and learn.  When does compulsory church attendance come in?

I'm amazed that Rudd isn't prepared to listen to the outcry.

Jenny, I don't think that appearing in a picture and appearing on a stage are the same thing at all.  However, after that Telstra conference yesterday, I suppose we'd better start thinking about holograms.


Fiona: "Eliot, your colons are slippping ... "

Probably too many art gallery openings.

Diversionary tactics...for sex obsessed hypocrites

Elizabeth Farrelly makes a striking point about the sex-obsessed culture wars being conducted by Rudd and his dupes:

"And bear in mind that party signing itself "Yours, disgusted" on this is the party that closed ranks for months around its own ministerial rock spider Orkopoulos. Now that's disgusting. Almost as bad as living in a town where all art must be pre-approved by the Rudd, Iemma, Sartor triumvirate and all policy pre-approved by the coal industry. Who's drawing the dirty pictures now?"

And then there's Wollongong City Council...

Fiona: Eliot, your colons are slippping ...

Informed consent

Ian MacDougall: "On the face of it, did Bill Henson (being a person previously unknown to both police and public alike, and now well known to both) actually break the law by publicly exposing his photo album?"

Henson is actually an internationally respected artist, well known both in Australia and overseas and who has exhibited widely and whose works, until the witch-hunt got underway, were in numerous Australian galleries for decades.

It's highly indicative that in the climate of repression being engendered by the culturally reactionary, right wing Rudd government, that for example the Minister for Arts (the increasingly detested Peter Garrett) would say nothing publicly in defense of the artists' rights generally and Henson and the Roslyn Oxley9, Newcastle Regional and other galleries displaying Henson's workjs, as they did for years previously unmolested.

This brazen attack on artists, freedom of expression and other cultural freedoms shows quite clearly, as Cate Blanchett, Marieka Hardy and other delegates to the fake 2020 Summit now know to their cost, what a shallow stunt the Rudd Gabfest was, too.

Angela Ryan: "Wow Eliot, how many school photos are naked eh?Are we not being disingenuous yet again??? "

The answer is, "no". Because if, as Anthony Nolan has stated, "The issue is not whether the photographs are either pornographic or indecent but the fact that they were produced illegally in the first instance by using subjects legally determined to be incapable of informed consent", then it makes no difference how the models are dressed.

According to Anthony's line of reasoning, a picture of anyone below 18 years becomes "illegal" regardless of who consents until the "subjects" themselves are legally determined to be capable of informed consent.

Silence is concession on the matter.

Eliot, Henson may well be an internationally respected artist; the Rudd government increasingly reactionary; Garrett as silent as an Easter Island statue on artistic freedom; the 2020 gabfest the greatest con job since the first bottle of snake oil, etc, etc. But my question remains unanswered by both you and Scott. I take it that your silence is a concession that yes, Henson and/or the gallery probably did break the law. I am not a lawyer, but on the face of it I would say it looks likely.

Why then should an artist be above the law?

One can argue that the law is an ass in this area, and that it should be changed in a more liberal direction. But the fuss right now relates to the present collection of photographs and the law presently on the books, and it cannot be changed retrospectively to get Henson off the hook without creating further problems.

The only time it is likely to be changed is after the present fuss has died down. But what politician will want to bell that particular cat then?

Oh yes I did

Ian, I told you I don't know and until this goes to trial and is determined neither does anybody else as you should well know.

When I saw the title to your post I thought immediately of Jenny's question to which I have not as yet responded but I do so now.

The unqualified question leaves someone in my position on the horns of dilemma; "No" and I'm full of shit; "Yes" and I leave myself open to the obvious charges.

Also I have to be honest, to myself more than to you good people so I've been having a long hard think about it. It's a little difficult for me since I was not cursed with a girl child.

As part of the process I had to imagine the circumstances in which the question were posed to me and it left me wondering how Henson procured his models, after all you can't just rock up to school a politely ask if any of the pupils would like to pose nude for you so I'm left guessing that the models could have been the offspring of friends and art colleagues.

So that decided it for me that cold canvassed I wouldn't have to think about it; an automatic "No".

In other circumstances such as if I knew Henson well and the subject were broached in a domestic environment, my daughter (presupposing that she was comfortable with nudity) was keen on the idea, I would in consultation with the girl's mother, give my permission ensuring that it was with our supervision.

Whatever this makes me in the minds of others, so be it, this is part of what I am.

I observed in viewing Henson's work that there was no sign of self-conciousness in the models, either embarrassment or coquettishness.

Justin my old albatross, good to have you back and I don't think you have to worry any more about me replacing you in Kathy's affections.

Paul, I'll get back to you later.

Fiona, from under your burqa...

Fiona, from under your burqa. could you please make explicit your views on banning some stuff in our society?

Are you against all censorship, or merely, in the old fashioned way against banning some material to some age groups?

Mind if I make so bold as to ask a question?

In the light of contradictory offerings here, plus Farrelly and Biddulph and the eternal 'Is it art?' and 'What is art?' debates that forever fizzle in and fizzle out again, is there anyone who can answer a simple question: On the face of it, did Bill Henson (being a person previously unknown to both police and public alike, and now well known to both) actually break the law by publicly exposing his photo album? The cops seem to think he did.

Should art be above the law?

What after all, is art?

For that matter, what is the law?

As Falstaff said: "What is honour? A word."

Heading for the High Court?

Lack of permission never stopped you in the past Ian, as now.

Does Farrelly read WD? Pinching my joke indeed! I'll agree with much of what Biddulph wrote but I'm still tired of the equating of Henson's work with paedophilia. Pornographic? mildly so. Exploitive? no proof of that as far as I can see but we might have to wait for a recollection of the experience from  one or more of the subjects and subsequent consequences, if any.

We might find out that the law here is open to interpretation, it frequently is.

"What after all, is art?"

We've been down that track before. Art is the experience and Persig said much in his observation that if art is "just what you like" on examination it's the "just" that is perjorative.

Whether anything is art or not depends on third parties' perception. Good art endures.

Now I'm going to be pesky, (again.)

What are your thoughts old chap?

Eliot's school photos....naked ..... not to be shared at dinner

Eliot: “So, the entire child modelling industry should be banned, then? What about school photographs?”

Wow Eliot, how many school photos are naked eh? Are we not being disingenuous yet again??? No surprise there. What is your agenda, Eliot, trying to thus confuse the issue? Naked 12 year olds in passionate poses on gallery walls vs school photos. What was your uniform like? Reality check mate. Again.

Scott Dunmore's post is beyond belief, Scott, we ARE talking about children, yes most 12 year olds are still even in primary school. And whether it irritates you that little girls wear cover over their prepubescent breasts is irrelevant. If they were posing naked in dark photos with passionate naked men running up against them behind them then I doubt anyone would find that still in the realm of acceptability, no matter what their age if a child. I saw the Newcastle exhibition when visiting and there was no warning that this was an underage child posing, even thinking it was an adult model it was a disturbing photo. If then the age of his model had been known I think the exhibition would have had a different response. I wonder who authorised its purchase and whether they knew it was a child model as well.

And for those who seem to think that 12 year olds can give consent to medical procedures etc well, Wrong. No, not even the pill. The law is very clear on this as it is about consent and ability to consent at this age. 14 to 16 is the uncertain age depending upon the child's "maturity". Even that the Libs were worried about and wanted the parliament to stop so mum and dad had to know.

12 year old girls cannot legally consent. A parent of guardian can, if they are fully informed. I wonder if it was done with a lawyer present.

This is not censorship as some so glibly try to run it as to protect such a famous predator who has been operating so well for so long(because I suspect no one actually knew the age of his victims photographed). This is about child protection. It does not affect our liberties or rights to protect our children but rather protects their right to a private unabused future. I wouldn't really care how perverted his images were if they were consenting adults, I just wouldn't bother seeing them. If he uses naked Children then he is breaking the law.

Imagine what a marvellous loopholes there would be for paedo porn if it was all OK if by a famous artist in the name of "art"!!!!

Cate Blanchett has greatly disappointed me. She above all others I would have thought would recognise the difference between child protection and censorship. Very disappointed.

Now where was this child from and who are her parents? How little we have heard about this so far. And the other naked children? So far we have only heard from the well-heeled chaperoned not allowed to undress eastern suburbs arts world single parent.

Oh and the chap here who talked with such knowledge from talking to girls (laughable eh girls?)about first sexual act for girls ... the studies reported at a forensic conference I went to recently published reported average age in Sydney for girls of first sex was 16 and something like 80% of the time they had been drunk at the time and regretted it. Perhaps it is indeed time we seriously looked at the sexualisation going on at teenager level and the promotion of such by our art world and media and advertising.

Downloading naked preteens gets jail. Putting it on gallery walls and calling it art gets money. Does art really think it is so much above the law? How can it???

Suffer little children not for art.

Michael, isn't it interesting how one can indeed find something in common with those one thought never to, like Miranda. I am still gobsmacked about that. myself. Shows the political x-y axis needs a further dimension regarding child protection care vs the pederasts delight in pushing sex for "young adults", ie children. Miranda and I nestling in there together at the protection for 12 year old graph point and Cate, my former idol, out on the extreme end of the scale that it is ok if it is art. Of course Miranda and I do hit different ends when it comes to bombing for freedom and Cate and Angelo and I all nestle up together again.

Bizarre world.

Interest in children

Paul Walter, your response seemed inappropriate in terms of my making it clear in my first post that as I had not seen the Henson images and that  I had no personal opinion of them.

My interest in children is purely maternal and nurturing.

I really found your comment to be both offensive and distressing.

Sorry  F  Kendall, but 

Sorry F Kendall, but can't for the life of me work out what it is that you seem annoyed at me over.. which comment?

Must say, your post is interesting for the cryptic belated circumstantial evidence as to age and gender of the mysterious F Kendall, though. [Fiona: Oy, Paul, F Kendall’s age and gender is F Kendall’s business.]

Can you come back with something specific? Seriously. Then we can take it from there. Secondly, I am relieved to know that your interest in children is "maternal and nurturing". I find this most laudable.

Have no grudge against them myself, provided they are a fair distance from me, on the whole. They can be quite useful sometimes, as to things like two of them as bookends for the giant book collection in the library, or moving the chess pieces in a garden set, or standing on the roof to hold the antenna in the right direction when reception is variable, or with them arriving at the psychological moment when a troublesome and boring neighbour has visited and only the presence of children would drive them out.

And they hold absolutely no erotic interest whatsoever for me. Never have.

Perhaps we should all take Angela Ryan's advice metaphorically if not to the letter, and have a big sort of group hug, like. Doubly good idea actually, the writer prefers "big girls" to littlies and triply good if Cate is involved.

I'll finish on following. a WD contributor rang me tonight to discuss some of the threads lately and at the end of a long chat blurted out the following:

"I don't think you're a pervert."

I am a bloke, and after a lifetime's wait for something along these lines (and especially after the last week) am utterly still reeling; in a sort of euphoric haze of self affirmed as to this possibly round about , back hand sort of compliment. ...

Well, at least I wasn't called "blue beard!"

Seriously, what reasons would many women have for liking most men much, any way?!

Enough now, must muse further on these carryings on.


Why would anyone defend taking nude photos of children just as they become adults?   It's grotesque no matter how Henson tries to deny it.

Too quick off the mark

I should have added, Marilyn, that Henson has not tried to defend himself and has remained silent. The poor bastard is probably devastated at the misinterpretations of his work. (I've just been watching the ABC.)

Nothing else I have said that you wish to respond to or are you still thinking about it?

(This remember from a bloke who offered you his hand in marriage a few years ago. Not fussed about bigamy since I am still married and in this case trigamy since at the same time I extended the same invitation to Margo.)

No defence neccesary

Marilyn, tell me what is wrong with nudity.

 Jenny, surely your post

Jenny, surely your post "Lacking Empathy", must have been written before you had read my post, of this morning, "Physical, not Neurotic". [Richard: Correct, Paul.] This concerned my investigation of those links Fiona provided which discussed likely physical bases for Gender Dysphoria.

I suggested, as you will recall after your read of my post, that I said that a person suffering the physical version would be as normal and entitled to seek treatment as a person with diabetes seeking insulin.

But yes, am sick of the self indulgence of western society and this is no red herring as you put it, when we are talking about medical aid for real illnesses withheld for neurotic problems solved by nonsense like breast implants for normal attractive girls and the like ( yes Marilyn, am sure every male reading will agree with your proposition that there is nothing like "a great pair of tits" ,although no male would feel that would apply in this case: how is it btw, that women presume to know what men think, never having been men? ).

I restate the proposition made earlier which dealt with a double standard concerning girls' ability to choose under the law, based on what I know. It’s contradictory that a girl would be considered unqualified to give sanction for a photo taken of her, yet would be considered competent for a choice medication and surgery, if the problem was psychosomatic and adjustmental.

Finally, a mother “allowing her daughter to be photographed nude in apparently pornographic poses" would be problematic, except for one thing. The mother was likely not allowing her daughter to be "photographed in ... pornographic poses” at all! You are making the common mistake in this thread of confusing a matter of taste with a matter of measurable fact!

She could be most likely offended at your slanderous imputation of her motives, which you can't claim to know at all, never having been inside her skin, and like the rest you have failed to recognise she would regard herself as allowing her daughter to be posed for an innocent art study!

I am really beginning to wonder if some folk contributing to this discourse here and elsewhere, might not need to clean up their own minds a bit, rather than indulging in vicious attacks on people they have never met and have not right to judge prior to investigation.

This is offensive Paul Walter

Finally, a mother “allowing her daughter to be photographed nude in apparently pornographic poses" would be problematic, except for one thing. The mother was likely not allowing her daughter to be "photographed in ... pornographic poses” at all! You are making the common mistake in this thread of confusing a matter of taste with a matter of measurable fact!

She could be most likely offended at your slanderous imputation of her motives, which you can't claim to know at all, never having been inside her skin, and like the rest you have failed to recognise she would regard herself as allowing her daughter to be posed for an innocent art study!

I am really beginning to wonder if some folk contributing to this discourse here and elsewhere, might not need to clean up their own minds a bit, rather than indulging in vicious attacks on people they have never met and have not right to judge prior to investigation.

Paul Walter, I find those remarks to be totally offensive. I have every right to voice an opinion as to whether I consider those photographs as described and published on the web meet the definition of pornography, and whether I consider any mother who agreed to allow her under age daughter to pose for such photos to be in dereliction of her duty to protect her child. And yes, I consider that to be so.

Clean up our minds should we Paul? That is the most offensive paragraph. And since it is the female posters here who are voicing objections to this art as you call it,  clearly you are telling the mothers here to clean up there minds and by implication the repressive nature of their nurturing of their own children.

Might I suggest that it is the men here who defend this so called art who need to take a look at where they might be coming from.

Angela, Kathy, F Kendall and Marilyn. We don't always agree on much, but on this I think we stand united. And for good reason. I saw enough of those images to know that they are unacceptable. And I have an artist/photographer friend here who has seen the earlier exhibition and who is in full agreement. And she is no wowser. Oh I see, the problem. She is female too.

BTW: No male poster here has come out and answered my question as to whether in the name of the art of dance it would be acceptable for these young girls to be dancing around naked on stage for the benefit of an audience..

Let me go one further and ask:

Do the men here think it would be acceptable for these young girls to display themselves in these exact naked poses on a stage for a public audience in the name of live sculpture art?  Let's hear it fellows because it seems to me if you are consistent you would consider that to be OK under the banner of art also.  Come on, let's have an answer or two.

What Intent ?

I think you may mis-read my meaning about the "Mirandas of the world" Angela Ryan. After all, she is close to a Nazi as I can find in any newspaper although there are worse.

The fascinating aspect of this sensation is that the art world has been caught on the hop. It is now re-defining itself as art for art's sake-rather than a commercial enterprise which it is. Certainly at those prices.

And being one never to miss a trick, today we have Denis Saville in Paddington, one of the saviest of art dealers in town , quickly dusting off a Henson from the basement  and placing it his gallery window whilst dialing the media with the other hand.

As for comparisons with past masters, which are paintings and statues not photographs, it was a regular occurence for artists and sculptors to decrease the size of genitals so as not offend those who may be their patrons-most often the Catholic  Church. Censorship has always been there and the art world should know it.

Indeed, Michaelangelo's David is said to be one such incident where the genitals did not match the real model.

I've pointed out on other boards though- who can possibly know what is going on in a person's mind if they look but do not act. ?  Lord Baden Powell began the Boy Scout movement and appeared to be obsessed by young lad's bodies ,so much that one of his favourite pastimes was to watch naked youths swimming in a river on a summer's day. Perhaps he loved the artistry of it all.

He also visited the famousWilhelm von Gloeden in Sicily , possibly the Bill Henson of his day in that he photographed young Sicilian youths in classical poses and some as young as a Henson model. It's said that Lord Baden Powell was the happy recipient of a von Gloeden book of photos which he treasured.  von Gloeden's photos were also highly popular in Victorian times and published widely in the most unexpected publications. Perhaps people merely thought of the models as "peasants" so they didn't really rate much of a thought.

Yet there has never been a hint of impropriety attached to Baden Powell's name.  He did however show complete disinterest in the Girl Guide movement started by his wife.

How can we ever know what his motives were and what was in his mind. We do know he started what has evolved over the years into a pretty good movement that brings together thousands of youngster from all over the world and fosters a sense of racial harmony ( despite some errant scout masters and such).

Henson has lit a fire and it will be fascinating to see how it is going to be put out.

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