In Salem Tonight with Bill Henson

May 31, 2008

Welcome to “In Salem Tonight with Bill Henson”. Yes, the Bill Henson witch hunt continues down under. Here is the latest news on the freedom of speech issue that is being hotly debated in the Antipodes.

Firstly, its no surprise that Bill Henson’s art work is now going up in price at Galleries, cha ching. See here.

The mother of the girl on the Henson exhibition invite has come out in defense of his work. See here. Disturbingly the article says that any media sources that have reprinted the image are also to be investigated by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. And internet sites are being looked at by the OFLC. I mean how absurd. That will put The Daily Telegraph, The Age, The Herald Sun, Yahoo Australia and many other independent media outlets in the dock with Henson. This is all sounding more and more like a post modern performance of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. You have got to laugh… and cry really.

Alison Croggon, who penned the impressive letter that Cate Blanchett and others signed, also has interesting reflections on the issue of prosecuting web sites, like her own, that have reproduce Bill Henson’s art work. See here.

There is also a petition to sign in favour of Bill Henson’s work and freedom of speech here. Get to it, boppers.

MUFF banned filmmaker Tony Comstock has an excellent, “A Modest Proposal” on his web site inspired by this issue, see here. There are other good articles on his site about censorship. Comstock you’ll remember is the director of “Ashley and Kisha” and “Damon and Hunter”, two MUFF sexuality films, both banned at our humble festival. One of which we played a few years back, as a ‘fuck you’ to the censorship situation in this country. Comstock is very astute, lucid and clear headed about the whole issue.

I will quote him from his website:

“I have a modest proposal.

When contemplating whether or not the making of a photograph constitutes a criminal act, let us conduct a thought experiment. Let us imagine all the circumstances of the creation of the photograph: where, when, who, how.

Now let us imagine that there is no film in the camera.

Get it? Everyone is there, everyone’s been informed, consented, tricked, bribed, lied to, flattered, compensated. Strobes pop, motors whir. But there is no film in the camera.

If absent the creation of the latent image, there is no crime, then the creation of the latent image is not a crime.

If, absent the creation of the latent image, the circumstances – the where, the when, the who, the how — constitute a criminal act, then let’s prosecute the criminality, and let’s not entertain any foolish notions that including a camera in the undertakings (with or without film) changes the circumstances in a meaningful way.

Simple enough?”

Indeed, seems pretty simple and straight forward to me. I endorse this basic model for censorship as well. Your thought Idea Fix readers?

6 Responses to “In Salem Tonight with Bill Henson”

  1. Greg Maxwell said

    Seems simple. Now, was this scenario enacted with the consent of the parents? Because 13 makes the girl a minor child. A 13 year old girl in a state of undress is considered to be at moral risk and her parents would therefore be liable if they allowed it.
    If they didn’t then the person who organised the shoot would be liable. The photograph is evidence of a crime, not the crime itself.
    Then ask yourself this question.
    Would I let my daughter do it?
    If I found out she’d done it and Henson was responsible, how long would it take for me to castrate the motherfucker?
    High moral horses are OK for some, but in the end, it’s uncle pervy taking happy snaps of a barely teenage snapper, and we all fucking know it.
    I’m willing to own my perversions. Anyone else?

  2. Jade said

    Worth a thousand words…

    Link to interesting video about Bill Henson’s photographic work:

  3. richard777 said

    Good link Jade. Also, interesting is the Radiohead song Videotape set to Henson’s images, clear proof of its artistic merits. Also, Leo Schofeld’s interview, online at You Tube, has Henson discussing his work articulately.

    Greg, you make a good a point, Henson may well have some ‘pervy’ intentions of his own, but clearly that is not what the art work is about. The models parents have consented and approve of Henson’s work. You may not want your daughter to be in his shoots, and thats your decision. Its an individual decision, that not everyone will share with you. I think some of the work’s power lies in the reaction and hysteria its now causing. It clearly awakens something unconscious in the average person, or at least is being provoked out of people by the media.

    As for ‘abuse’, all this media attention and any interference by police in this matter, involving the minors, i.e removing them from parents care, the undue media attention and shame caused from having this work so publicly attacked, etc. has the potential to cause the real harm…

    Henson, is basically a nude artist, this has a long history in art and should continue to do so. The work is controversial no doubt, care has to be made Henson’s modeling procedures are above board with parents consented and/or present, etc. But this moral panic speaks more about society, than about Henson’s work.

  4. Greg Maxwell said

    I guess I’m a little binary about this stuff.
    Just because he photographs nudes doesn’t mean he’s immune from the law. If the law says that 13 year old girls are not capable of giving informed consent then the parents are supposed to do so. If they choose to expose their daughter in this way, knowing that the risk is there of the kind of public opprobium that has occurred, and thereby subject her to risk, they are culpable.
    I’m sorry, but kiddy porn is kiddy porn. He may not have intended it to be so (although he knew it could be and I suspect that was partially his intent. Not to be porn but to test the boundaries of the system), but in the end, that’s what it is. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle.
    He made it, they allowed it but it’ll be that little girl who suffers. That’s child abuse no matter which way you slice it.
    All in the name of some guy’s desire to appear “edgy” and challenge convention. In the process, he’s become an exploiter of a young girl’s innocence and trust.

  5. Gregory Carlin said

    Well in London it is child pornography. That is the de jure position.

    Henson isn’t able to exhibit his ‘non-sexual’ naked kids photos there.

  6. richard777 said

    Hi Gregory,

    Well the ‘de jure’ position (now), is that Henson’s work is not pornography in Australia. Who cares how the censor crazy UK deals with things? I imagine in some Arab countries Henson could be stoned to death under Sharia law, does that make you happy, you reactionary twit?



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