I don’t really want to go to deeply into this controversy with the photographer Bill Henson. I’ve just learned of it. Seems like old news too me and sensationalism at its worst. To put it simply he’s taken pictures of a naked 13 year old, in Australia, or wherever, and naturally there is an uproar about protecting children, innocence and at the same time freedom of expression and artistic and cultural pursuits. First of all, anything coming out of Australia claiming cultural or artistic merit is dubious at best. I say that only because Australia has existed for such a short period of time and is not a nation with a sense of continuity comparable to France, for example. I feel the same way about the United States. However, where the cultural achievements of the US surpass those of Australia and many nations in the world comes from the fact that the medium was either invented or perfected in the US.
Be that as it may, the crux of this situation is how his work has changed the laws regarding child pornography in Australia, and this and that. I don’t feel like posting the pictures themselves, so if you’re interested in seeing them, do a google image search for Bill Henson, and you’ll see what the fuss is about. The photography is rather engaging. My problem with what he did is naturally using a 13 year old nude subject. It’s too easy. It’s simply attention-seeking behavior and not art. Someone could surely make an argument to the contrary, but not without a significant amount of hypocrisy and contradiction. Here in the US, 13 year olds are being arrested, yes, arrested, everyday for sending other 13 year olds nude pictures of themselves, being charged with possession of child pornography. Actually, the model herself supports him, but that’s neither here nor there.
I’m a bit conflicted. I enjoy the imagery. I know though he could have achieved the same results with an 18 year old, or whichever age is youngest for the legal and ethical participation in adult activities, whatever, such as nude photography is. All he’s done is attracted tons of unnecessary, bad publicity, internationally, and for that I think he should be completely ignored. I mean, in society you have to play these things out and think to yourself what are the extreme ramifications of this kind of behavior, which is what it is in the end. He’s quoted, describing himself as, ‘Very, very selfish,’ tending to ‘do what he wants.’ That’s a very susinct take on the situation on a whole. I’m sure he thought he was being cute when he said it, but people who are this way in real life are generally despised. Quotes like that, out of context perhaps, still offer insight that doesn’t lend credence to the assumption his art is anything but self-serving. If art shouldn’t be something it’s entirely self-serving.
Art, culture, call it what you will, can be explained in psychological terms and understood as human behavior. Point is, you have to look at the man and wonder what is behind his decision to exploit a art in this manner, that is what is behind his rational explanations, meaning his clinical desires. Society has to ask what if others wish to pursue similar inclinations to the same ends of notoriety? Wouldn’t an even more interesting piece of art be a middle aged photographer having sex with a 13 year old on webcam in the style of sexual communications so popular around the world now? Why isn’t that art? Should there be a change in ethics? I don’t care to comment. I’m not passing judgment. The bottomline for me and the impression I take away from what little I know about the situation is that he’s a hack, right or wrong.