In Australia lately, there’s been an ongoing and still not resolved debate over “art”, and whether taking photographs of nude children and publishing them is acceptable. The debate has had a great deal of emotion injected into it, and some players in the debate have lost sight of what’s truly at the heart of the matter.
The child involved in this chapter of the debate is named Olympia. Five years ago, when she was six years old, her artist mother had her get naked and took photos of her, in poses which are classically known as being soft-pornography poses. This month, the photos (which are not great artistically I’ll mention) appeared in the government-subsidised magazine Art Monthly Australia. Not only did they appear inside the magazine, one of the photos was used as the front cover shot.
The publishing of the photo has been endorsed by Olympia herself, but I must say, her discussion with the media was, on the whole, rather unconvincing. It came across as though she had been coached in what she said, and her father clearly bought his clothing from the Pretty Atrociously Clothed Organisation. It also seemed to me that Olympia was unsure of what to say, and seemed to need to rely on her father to make sure she was saying the right thing. Her father is, coincidentally, an Arts critic for the Age, and completely supports the photographs and publication of them. That attitude slightly creeps me out, considering the essay he once wrote about photographs taken of Olympia.
In my opinion taking nude photos of a child is fine, as long as they don’t leave the family photo album. Lord knows, I have and I’m sure we all have nude snaps of our kids, but they rarely get taken past the first few years. Stripping your child off at the age of six and having them pose in a sexual fashion and subsequently printing them in a national magazine, as a form of protesting the criticism directed at Bill Henson, the artist who took nude, provocative photos of a 13 year old girl and publicly displayed them at an art gallery, seems just plain wrong to me.
On one hand, there’s certainly scumbags in the community who would use the images to pleasure themselves sexually, and having such photos available so easily under the guise of “art” is not properly protecting children. But that’s not the part of this situation that most irks me, although it’s certainly a concern. What gets to me the most is the manipulation of the child to be willing to display herself, naked, in a national magazine. The child is now 11, and as such, has the mental capabilities of an 11 year old. An 11 year old female, and she’s getting one of the best things that an 11 year old can get: the entire country knows who she is. She’s famous, albeit for all the wrong reasons.
Olympia can’t possibly understand the full ramifications of her appearance in nude photos in Art Monthly Australia. She can’t possibly understand about the potential for paedophiles to access photos of her naked and use them for their sexual gratification. She also can’t fully comprehend that now that these images are in the public domain, they’re never going to leave it. When she’s 40, colleagues at work would be able to find them. Hell, when she’s 90, they’ll still be around. I hope she’s got the courage and guts to be able to handle the criticism she’s receiving, and the, ahem, reactions of other kids at school when school resumes next Monday.
There’s also an excellent discussion of this over at The Subjects of Interest.
UPDATE: To see the images themselves, uncensored, they’re on this website. I refuse to host them here.
And so you can see what I mean about the attire:
UPDATE II: Andrew Bolt examines Robert Nelson’s (the father) response to one of Bolt’s blog items. Bolt doesn’t pull his punches and isn’t afraid to tell what he’s really thinking. Thanks for the link Spot.
UPDATE III: Andrew Bolt delivers an excellent column, a more edited version of the discussion in Update II.