photosynthetic

10 Jun 2013 2,023 views
 
supporter of
atom rss 1.0 rss 2.0
web browser google del.icio.us digg technorati
| lost password
birth date
cancel
photoblog image self-censoring

self-censoring

 

 I like this picture - it sits in a frame in my office at home and reminds me of how I got started in social work. It was a summer job in my first year at university, working in a children's home. The boys in the photo lived there (and that is my first car they are climbing all over!). I have blurred the faces because these people, who will now be in their late 40s, may not want photos of themselves as children in care posted online.

 

As a photographer who also works for the NSPCC I find myself self-censoring quite a lot when it comes to images of children. I spot lots of potential pictures which I hesitate to make, let alone post because I am concerned about how the subject might feel about it. Maybe not now, but in the future. Parental consent doesn't make a jot of difference when it comes to the future feelings of the child.

 

I guess some recent work with the University of the Arts in London and the Tate have brought this into sharp focus for me. I have been looking again at some photographs which I admire and wonder if they should ever have been taken. Or more precisely, if they should ever have been exploited by the artist in the way they were. I would really appreciate your views on this and to get you thinking I am presenting a few examples with rather more artistic merit than the happy memory snapshot I have posted today.

 

First up is Diane Arbus and her iconic image of the boy with a toy hand grenade taken in Central Park.

 

 

 The story to the best of my knowledge is that Arbus met the child, whose name is Colin Wood, whilst walking in the park. Colin was 7 years old at the time, the son of a well-known tennis player whose parents had recently divorced. He has described himself at that time as very lonely. A vulnerable child. Arbus took 11 photos of him and chose this one as the keeper.

 

He was not being posed in any detail but was given direction. He has explained his contorted expression and stance as arising out of frustration - "take the picure already" as Arbus continued to circle him with her camera. In other shots he looks happy and mostly does not hold the grenade.

 

As an adult he seems at peace with the image. He was interviewed as part of the BBC programmes, 'The Genius of Photography' and has spoken about the connection he felt between Arbus and himself.  But at the time this was a brief chance meeting which he knew no more about for 7 years.

 

Seven years later, the now 14 year old Colin finds copies of the picture posted around his school when one of his schoolmates discovers it in a magazine, along with the original caption - "A child of the aristocracy posing in his rich archaic clothing". That was not good for Colin.

 

 

Was the harm experienced by Colin justified by the artistic merits of the photograph which Arbus selected from the roll of film she shot. Does it represent him or the message she sought to convey. Does the fact that this image is part of a much broader body of work with similar themes and connections excuse the personal injury experienced? Is the picture worth more than Colin's negative experiences?

 

If Colin's parents had been present to consent to the making of these images, would that have made a difference? What consent given in 1962 could be informed by how the images would be used or viewed in 2013? Did Arbus owe a duty of care to Colin in considering how she would use the pictures she took?

 

Next up - Sally Mann

 

Mann is best known for her photographs of her children. They are undoubtedly beautiful photographs, expertly made, and give an intimate and intriguing account of her children's early lives. But they can be seen as deeply inappropriate images which should not have been made or made public.

 

 

 

 

 

One thing that makes a difference to me is the way in which Mann responded to her children's feelings about the images. When her son decided he did not want to be depicted without clothes she no longer made any images which showe him nude. Indeed the photograph  entitled 'The Last Time Emmett Modeled Nude, 1987' is one of my favourites of her pictures.

 

 

 

However, the previous pictures were and are still out there, whether Emmett likes it or not.

 

Others, like 'The Wet Bed' (below) make me more uncomfortable, both about how the image might be viewed by the subject once older, and how it might be consumed by others. These are not private family momentos, they are available to anyone in the world at the click of a mouse.

 

 

 Some images, whether photographs, paintings or whatever, cross a line. The line might be a personal and a moral one or it may be a societal and a legal one.

 

The paintings of Graham Ovenden have recently been removed from public display by the Tate following his conviction this year for acts of indecency with some of his child models. This took some time - the police first took an interest in his work in the early 90s but the images themselves were never found by a court to be problematic (the CPS did not pursue the first attempt and a second case collapsed when some key witnesses did not appear). In the light of his convictions they are now seen differently by the art establishment. Would we view Mann's work differently if she were to be convicted of acts of child sexual abuse?

 

Would we view them differently if they had been made by the children's father?

 

This brings me to my third example. I was not aware of the works of the Romanian photographer Irina Ionesco until a fellow Shutterchancer brought her to my attention. She is best known for her photographs of her daughter Eva. These images are different from Mann's depictions of her children in that Eva is displayed in an unambiguously sexual way.

 

Eva was removed from her mother's care but not before photographs of her aged 4-11 had been published widely, including in Playboy and Penthouse as well as in more 'artistic' publications. She photographed her young daughter in the same way she explored sexual themes with older models.

 

 

This image perhaps best balances the need to explain the nature of the photographs without becoming too explicit. A quick Google search (even with Safesearch enabled!!) will bring up more disturbing examples. Eva has since tried to sue her mother both to try and reclaim control over the images and for compensation for what she described as a 'stolen chidhood'.

 

For me, Ionesco was completely wrong to make these photographs, let alone publish them and use them to promote her career. The artist has a responsibility to choose a way of expressing themselves which does not so clearly harm and exploit others, especially children and other vulnerable people.

 

But sometimes the choices and the consequences they bring are often less immediately obvious.

 

What do you think?

self-censoring

 

 I like this picture - it sits in a frame in my office at home and reminds me of how I got started in social work. It was a summer job in my first year at university, working in a children's home. The boys in the photo lived there (and that is my first car they are climbing all over!). I have blurred the faces because these people, who will now be in their late 40s, may not want photos of themselves as children in care posted online.

 

As a photographer who also works for the NSPCC I find myself self-censoring quite a lot when it comes to images of children. I spot lots of potential pictures which I hesitate to make, let alone post because I am concerned about how the subject might feel about it. Maybe not now, but in the future. Parental consent doesn't make a jot of difference when it comes to the future feelings of the child.

 

I guess some recent work with the University of the Arts in London and the Tate have brought this into sharp focus for me. I have been looking again at some photographs which I admire and wonder if they should ever have been taken. Or more precisely, if they should ever have been exploited by the artist in the way they were. I would really appreciate your views on this and to get you thinking I am presenting a few examples with rather more artistic merit than the happy memory snapshot I have posted today.

 

First up is Diane Arbus and her iconic image of the boy with a toy hand grenade taken in Central Park.

 

 

 The story to the best of my knowledge is that Arbus met the child, whose name is Colin Wood, whilst walking in the park. Colin was 7 years old at the time, the son of a well-known tennis player whose parents had recently divorced. He has described himself at that time as very lonely. A vulnerable child. Arbus took 11 photos of him and chose this one as the keeper.

 

He was not being posed in any detail but was given direction. He has explained his contorted expression and stance as arising out of frustration - "take the picure already" as Arbus continued to circle him with her camera. In other shots he looks happy and mostly does not hold the grenade.

 

As an adult he seems at peace with the image. He was interviewed as part of the BBC programmes, 'The Genius of Photography' and has spoken about the connection he felt between Arbus and himself.  But at the time this was a brief chance meeting which he knew no more about for 7 years.

 

Seven years later, the now 14 year old Colin finds copies of the picture posted around his school when one of his schoolmates discovers it in a magazine, along with the original caption - "A child of the aristocracy posing in his rich archaic clothing". That was not good for Colin.

 

 

Was the harm experienced by Colin justified by the artistic merits of the photograph which Arbus selected from the roll of film she shot. Does it represent him or the message she sought to convey. Does the fact that this image is part of a much broader body of work with similar themes and connections excuse the personal injury experienced? Is the picture worth more than Colin's negative experiences?

 

If Colin's parents had been present to consent to the making of these images, would that have made a difference? What consent given in 1962 could be informed by how the images would be used or viewed in 2013? Did Arbus owe a duty of care to Colin in considering how she would use the pictures she took?

 

Next up - Sally Mann

 

Mann is best known for her photographs of her children. They are undoubtedly beautiful photographs, expertly made, and give an intimate and intriguing account of her children's early lives. But they can be seen as deeply inappropriate images which should not have been made or made public.

 

 

 

 

 

One thing that makes a difference to me is the way in which Mann responded to her children's feelings about the images. When her son decided he did not want to be depicted without clothes she no longer made any images which showe him nude. Indeed the photograph  entitled 'The Last Time Emmett Modeled Nude, 1987' is one of my favourites of her pictures.

 

 

 

However, the previous pictures were and are still out there, whether Emmett likes it or not.

 

Others, like 'The Wet Bed' (below) make me more uncomfortable, both about how the image might be viewed by the subject once older, and how it might be consumed by others. These are not private family momentos, they are available to anyone in the world at the click of a mouse.

 

 

 Some images, whether photographs, paintings or whatever, cross a line. The line might be a personal and a moral one or it may be a societal and a legal one.

 

The paintings of Graham Ovenden have recently been removed from public display by the Tate following his conviction this year for acts of indecency with some of his child models. This took some time - the police first took an interest in his work in the early 90s but the images themselves were never found by a court to be problematic (the CPS did not pursue the first attempt and a second case collapsed when some key witnesses did not appear). In the light of his convictions they are now seen differently by the art establishment. Would we view Mann's work differently if she were to be convicted of acts of child sexual abuse?

 

Would we view them differently if they had been made by the children's father?

 

This brings me to my third example. I was not aware of the works of the Romanian photographer Irina Ionesco until a fellow Shutterchancer brought her to my attention. She is best known for her photographs of her daughter Eva. These images are different from Mann's depictions of her children in that Eva is displayed in an unambiguously sexual way.

 

Eva was removed from her mother's care but not before photographs of her aged 4-11 had been published widely, including in Playboy and Penthouse as well as in more 'artistic' publications. She photographed her young daughter in the same way she explored sexual themes with older models.

 

 

This image perhaps best balances the need to explain the nature of the photographs without becoming too explicit. A quick Google search (even with Safesearch enabled!!) will bring up more disturbing examples. Eva has since tried to sue her mother both to try and reclaim control over the images and for compensation for what she described as a 'stolen chidhood'.

 

For me, Ionesco was completely wrong to make these photographs, let alone publish them and use them to promote her career. The artist has a responsibility to choose a way of expressing themselves which does not so clearly harm and exploit others, especially children and other vulnerable people.

 

But sometimes the choices and the consequences they bring are often less immediately obvious.

 

What do you think?

comments (4)

  • Chris
  • England
  • 10 Jun 2013, 06:59
This whole damn business is such a minefield Paul and it leaves me completely perplexed. On one side it seems there is less & less that is deemed appropriate subject matter for photographers whilst on the other there is the small matter of suddenly seeing yourself aged ten or under in a photograph and feeling really bad about it. I suppose the best thing, and indeed the safest thing, is to self censor, to ignore children as subject matter completely. I often do this and it annoys me, but I don't want to be branded as anything negative by peers or media..
paul: I think there is a distinction to be made between the photos that can be taken and those that should be taken. To talk about 'appropriate subject matter' tends to miss the point if the discussion is about what is permitted rather than what is the impact of the image being published.
  • Louis
  • South Africa
  • 10 Jun 2013, 15:36
What do I think?

1) The Sally Mann pics were up for discussion sometime ago. I still feel the same - she is unfit to be a mother. Doesn't matter how good her art is.
2) Little Colin ran up against some bullies at school. When he became a target, it doesn't matter where and how they got the material, nothing would stop them from their bullying activities. He also met an auntie who took pics of him in all kinds of poses. Only the large one has some merit. The others lack artistic merit - i think.
3) The boys on your car: I wouldn't have known they are from a boys home if you didn't tell me. Possibly, only people who lived and worked with them would recognise them as such. And I can't see why it is a detracting factor that they were in a home at all.
4) That painter - doesn't surprise me that he ended up in court. Irina - unfit to be a mother.

You may or may not be aware that there are still 27 million people enslaved on this earth. Many of them are children - hard labour to sex. And many again, sold into the situation by their parents. A woman in need working as a drug mule, butcher her recently born child a kilometer from the border. Intestines out, drugs in - child must still look a bit alive, albeit sleeping, when crossing the border. The consent of parents? No parents are not holy because they are parents.

Something I have experienced in my life is the subjectivity of the human race. Look at how Arbus could walk around in a park going on with children. She is a woman it is acceptable, probably even when the boy's parents pitched up. But if Arbus was male ...

And then there are children at any age that are very skilled at manipulating adults. And don't believe there are not children that are promiscuous.

I have seen children reacting negatively around age 12 to the baby pic, where (s)he was laying naked for the photographer. When I asked my son if I could take a pic of him from behind under an outdoor shower (to show off his tan), I got a negative reaction that I didn't expect. He was around 9 years at the time. I could be there, but no pictures.

The moment something becomes newsworthy, all inhibitions fall away. Just think about the pics of children in wars, car accidents, etc that you have seen. Who gave permission?

OK, all of that is mentioned to indicate that our world is a badly mixed up place.

Brings me to:
1) No single rule or approach can ever work. Self-censorship is a good approach, as long as you have a conscience.
2) The UK tendency to restrict photographic opportunities (not of children, not in this park, not in that square, etc, etc) is sort of hysterical. One can do without it. And I am sure female photographers get away with far more than their male counterparts.
3) Asking permission to take a pic and/or permission to publish. Verbal or in writing. If it happens in a public space, I don't think permission is of any merit. It soothes someone's (maybe the photographer) judgement.

Enough opinion for now. I like this posting a bit more than the standard 'Great picture' type.
paul: Thanks for taking the time to comment Louis. I ran a lot of things together in this post but my main concern is about how the publication of images impacts on the subject, especially when the subject is a child.

I'm torn on the topic of Sally Mann. I think she ran some huge risks at the expense of her children but I've not been able to find evidence that they were harmed by the experience. But they may still be.

regarding Arbus and Colin Wood - Arbus is not responsible for the actions of the bullies at his school but she is responsible for the way in which she used his picture. Colin could equally well be upset by how the millions of other people have seen him - its just that the other young people around him were the more immediate and physical manifestation of the response.

The point about Ovenden's paintings is that the meaning we attach to the image is changed when we have insight into the true motivation of the artist. There are lots of famous names in the art world who stepped up to defend Ovenden before who now may regret the way in which they characterised the debate back then. Art is not just about pretty pictures, it conveys a message. The message that Ovenden's 'Aspects of Lolita' conveyed was not difficult to interpret but people found ways to avoid understanding it. This happens a lot with the abuse of children. People will close their eyes to the glaringly obvious.

btw I don't think there is anything detracting about having been in the care system, but I cannot speak for the people in the photo who may have their own feelings about what the public knows about their history. I blurred the faces to make the point about the post - I have posted other pictures in the past, and worried about the ethics (http://tadpole.shutterchance.com/theme/1-all-themes/image/2013/03/31/at-the-park/ & http://tadpole.shutterchance.com/theme/1-all-themes/image/2007/11/26/this-is-who-i-am/ )
  • Louis
  • South Africa
  • 11 Jun 2013, 12:47
Some of my people pics and some are about children:

In no case did I ask anyone's permission. I also thought that not a single instance warranted the asking. Even the one taken on New Years day where the guys are protesting my pointing the camera at them. They were in a public place.

Heck, one can discuss this topic forever, but with reference to your reply:

(I have added some links in here, but SC won't accept it - it looks like spam to the program. I will send the links by e-mail).

1) I did understand why you blotted the faces in the main pic. My point was just that; if you don't tell me where they are from etc, I won't know. The same with those excellent pics you provided links to. In essence - if you don't tell, you don't have to worry.

2) My other point is that I am certain that many people in general are way too sensitive about people in their pictures. To me, public places are public and private places are private. In your case being a social worker - yes you met up with real screwed-up situations and it would make you more sensitive.

3) In African rural areas, the moment you take out your camera, the black kids will go into some hyper mode, posing and demanding that their pictures be taken. I deal with it by lining them up and take pictures, show it to them and they go ballistic when they recognise themselves. Maybe I will keep a good one, but most I will wipe. Having 20 demanding kids around you, demand attention smile Funny thing is how reserved the rural white kids are. Very interested, but maintaining aloofness.

4) Back to little Colin. My point about the bullies is that they will bully - with anything that comes to hand. An Arbus pic, a dustbin, a toilet, fists - anything to make his life miserable. Holding Arbus responsible for what the bullies are doing is a bit far fetched. Then one should hold the dustbin manufacturer responsible if the bullies choose that avenue of misery. A bully can make you hate even the best picture of yourself.

5) Your point about Ovenden "people found ways of not understanding" is quite correct. Looking at his pictures and applying my psychological training - he is interest in naked little girls, exclusive to other materials, is telling. How a mother can offer her child as a Ovenden model, is beyond me. Anyhow back to finding ways not to understand - that is why there are 27 million slaves, beggars at the street corner, suspect screams going on at the neighbours, animal cruelty, etc etc. We, the human race, is good at closing our eyes to the obvious.

Then we are back at self-censoring. You and I can do it, because we have consciences - but don't rely on it in other people.
After reading the comments and replies - I fear I haven't much to add - but appreciate that you'd bring up the subject for discussion in this manner. I think it's a shame that "innocent" photos of joyful occasions (such as a child running naked through a sprinkler) might be construed as inappropriate. But there it is - It seems if you photograph the child from behind, and especially don't show the face - it's easier for the world to take. But frontal nudity, and with an identifying face is just to personal and should be avoided in my opinion.

Leave a comment

must fill in
[stop comment form]
show
for this photo I'm in a any and all comments icon ShMood©
camera unknown
exposure mode full manual
shutterspeed unknown
aperture f/0.0
sensitivity unknown
focal length 0.0mm
The four guardiansThe four guardia...
they are comingthey are coming
floating shellfloating shell

Warning