Sj7g09's Blog

Nan Goldin & Annelies Strba

Posted on: November 19, 2009

I found another 2 cases of art being seized from exhibitions by the police which I thought were similar enough to talk about together. One is the work of photographer Nan Goldin, another is the photographer Annelies Strba – both work with children in their photography, and both have been threatened with charges under the Protection of Children Act 1978 and/or Obscene Publications Act. These laws make it illegal to create, or allow the creation of, ‘indecent’ images of children. But what makes an image of a child ‘indecent’? There is nothing universally indecent about a child being naked, but it is interpreted as such in the modern art world.

photograph by Annelies Strba

In these 2 specific examples, one of the images was a photograph of Strba’s 12-year-old daughter naked in the bath, part of a series showing her family growing up over a 20 year time frame, and the other was Goldin’s photo entitled “Klare and Edda belly-dancing”, in which one of the girls is naked. I feel reluctant to even put up these images on this blog because they are seen as so ‘wrong’ by society now, but they are works of art and should be seen to be understood – and even if they werent art and were just family snapshots, there’s nothing wrong with them – they’re just images of children, and children dont have the same sense of shame as adults. It’s only by adults projecting their shame and fear and sexuality onto children that there is a problem with such images, because of the absolute terror that people may view the images sexually, which, in turn, sexualises the children in the images because there is such a taboo about them. In being so afraid of viewing the images sexually, the images become sexual because everyone looking at them is evaluating whether they can be considered sexually arousing.

photograph by Nan Goldin

These images should not make me feel uncomfortable in the way that they do – I shouldnt be fearful of looking at them or talking about them because they may corrupt or deprave, because I dont believe that images have that power, but because apparently other people do, it’s like viewing an image like this means that you must be gaining sexual stimulation from it, and I think that people are scared of whether they interpret the image ‘inappropriately’ or whether other people think they are interpreting it ‘inappropriately’, and they project this fear and loathing onto the image – hence censorship and prosecutions.

On an article from the BBC, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7016651.stm, talking about the Nan Goldin case, I found a number of interesting quotes.

‘Just because an image is located in a respectable location doesn’t make it automatically immune from the law, says a
spokeswoman for the anti-child pornography group, the CEOP Centre. “People who have sexual interest in children come from all walks of life, ” she says. “You can’t tell who is in your gallery and why they are looking at images.” ‘

Just because of how someone interprets something, it can’t make the image illegal. Literally anything can be interpreted as sexual by someone, but that doesnt mean that it was intended sexually, or that the responsibility for this sexuality should be projected onto the image. Also, an unpopular opinion here I’m sure, but what’s the problem with people seeing fine art images of children and being aroused by them? This shouldnt be a crime, because they havent done anything. It’s a thought crime. It’s that they shouldnt think or feel a certain way, and that those thoughts and feelings are so against mainstream norms and values that they must be punished to correct that person’s way of thinking, under the guise of preventing them from committing a crime. There is nothing to say that looking at child pornography, let alone images of children that could maybe possibly be interpreted as sexual, actually causes sexual violence towards children. I’m sure there’s a correlation, yes, but no causation. It shouldnt be anyone’s place to judge how art is interpreted – that’s the beauty of art, that you should have the scope to view it however you want.

Gut-instinct, she added, was also crucial. “There are some images which just don’t feel right. What is important is the lasting impression you get once you have viewed the image. If it leaves you with the lasting impression that what you are viewing is child abuse, then it probably is.”

Gut instinct is misleading. People can view images that are in no way child abuse, but, as a society, we are ideologically conditioned to see child abuse everywhere because we are so afraid of it, and because we are afraid of it, we are offended by it, and because of this, seeing any image of a child in a situation that could be interpreted as inappropriate makes us feel negatively towards the image. So by those ideas, seeing any image of a child naked would make us feel a negative lasting impression, even if the image was purely innocent. People dont have the necessary knowledge to know whether something is child abuse or not, either because laws are complicated, or they dont know the context of the image, or they dont know whether the image was real or not – whatever the reason, the general public dont have the expertise to make these judgements. Similarly, I’ve read articles by people who have devoted their careers to working with paedophiles, and they have never exposed themselves to child pornography, and I do think that this is wrong, because I am strongly of the belief that you can’t understand something until you’ve had an experience of it, and so people who work with paedophiles without looking at the sort of material that arouses them is a fallacy – how can they expect to empathise with or gain an understanding of someone who is excited by this material when they dont even know what the person has been looking at? I personally find myself unwilling to look at this material, but equally, I dont work in a job that would benefit from me doing so. However, if it’s for art or academic research, I think that this is a perfectly good reason for viewing such material as if you dont actually look, all  you can base your thoughts on is assumption and you wont ever truly know anything.

‘Mary Hayward of the Campaign Against Censorship says the gut instinct of one person is “entirely subjective”. She calls for a statutory defence of “artistic merit” to be made available to people prosecuted under the 1978 Act. And Ms Hayward argues the wider context of an image should always be taken into account when it was being judged as illegal pornography. “What matters is not only where the picture is being exhibited, but who took it; why they took it; and all the circumstances surrounding it.”‘

Gut instinct is, indeed, entirely subjective – you can’t base laws and prosecutions on it, and such laws dont seem to consider art or academia or research as a defence for either creating or owning photographs that may fall under child protection laws. In doing this, the law becomes about making an example of people for not adhering to laws, seeing as if they are in possession of ‘indecent’ photographs for artistic or academic reasons, surely this means they do not find the material arousing, and so would have no need to commit an offence against a real child, which is supposedly why the law is in place.

‘John Cooper QC says the public interest test looks at a number of factors. “In the case of photographs of children it’s important to look at the circumstances surrounding the images,” says Mr Cooper. “For instance: how old is the child? Have the photos been taken in vulnerable circumstances – in other words was there an element of exploitation involved? Sometimes it’s relevant whether there is a whole series of photographs of children. The police might press for prosecution on the grounds that they might want to make an example of the offender. Another factor could be what kind of photographer took the pictures. If they are known to have a good reputation then this will be relevant too.”

Making an example of someone should never be a reason for punishment. It proves that the law isnt there to protect children, but to make sure people know they cant break the law even if that law has stopped serving its original purpose. I’m also astounded that the reputation of the photographer can be called into question, particularly as people have tried to prosecute Nan Goldin, a very reputable photographer. It worries me, as it sends out a clear message to artists and photographers that dont have the sort of reputation, status and wealth that Nan Goldin has, that they cant work with these issues – that if charges can be brought about against Goldin, then obviously she has the means to fight the case, whereas unknown artists dont. It may prevent, and I would go so far as to say that it intends to prevent, unknown artists, art students, artists beginning their careers, from working with these themes and issues for fear of being made an example of because they cant prove their reputation in the same way that Goldin can.

16 Responses to "Nan Goldin & Annelies Strba"

These peictures of cource have some sexual value, but is that really harmful? I do not think so.

lf man see sexual value in kids pornografic kind of photos and call them art just to be safe there is harm!

they don,t have any sex invaled why are we so againce children being nude in pictures because of alll the sick fucking rapetist
out there children being nude is a pertty thing we are born nude we
just have to wise up a little a child is 6 to 12 a a tollder 3 to 5 a teen 13 to 19 at 13 you are not a child jesus mother was 13 to 15 when she had jesus

I have a 5 year old daughter who, after a bath or clothes change, sometimes runs around the house naked. If I took a picture of her or she got in the way of me taking a picture, would that be child pornography? Anyone with a child will tell you that little kids have no shame and sometimes thinks it’s fun to run around the house naked. Its sad that I, nor many other parents, can not take a photo of our child in a good photo moment if they are nude. To myself, my family, and any other good parent a photo such as this is obviously not sexual but a good memory of a funny time. Even if I was to show it at a gallery it would not be sexual. Just because the police and politicians and Christians of this country and around the world are sex crazed perverts that find arousal in nude children, does not mean the rest of us do. I think it’s the people who try and band things like this who are the ones that need to be locked up. Most of the time it is only they who find photos of nude children sexual. It upsets me to see another parent being punished because they love their children and like to preserve memories of the child’s life. This country and world is a vary sad place because of the powers that be. So when do we draw the line? I know plenty of men who find denim jeans sexual on a female or vice-versa. So does this mean that every photo of a child in denim jeans is sexual in nature and should be hidden? How about family trips to the beach? Is a photo of a child playing in a bathing suit pornography? This whole mess is ridiculous. The conservatives need to open their eyes and see that just because there is a photo of a nude child does not mean there is a bunch of guys masturbating to it thinking about going out and abusing a child. I can guarantee that even if you ban taking any photo of a child there will still be just as many perverts and possibly even more child abuse crimes being committed. The photos are not the problem and censorship is not the solution. The real solution to child abuse is education and rehabilitation. The perverts have a psychological problem that needs to be addressed. It is not a photo’s fault, nor the child or parent. Pedophilia is a psychological problem that can be fixed. Taking away artistic freedom and censoring art is always a bad thing because it dumbs our intellect down. I hope the work will realize this someday.

its funny that just before this post where/ l totally believe for a parent of 5y old kid who naturally cant see anything sexual on photo of their kids naked/
was a comment from man saying that this pictures got sexual value!!!!!
Problem of this photo is it doesnt look so innocent snap shot like it wants us to believe in name of Art!
lt looks pretty organized like somebody -photografer told kids exactly what to do how to poze!
Any way it is too close to pornografic kind of photos ment for adults!
There is nothing artistic about this picture just plan to shock to get attention fame and profit to autor!
There is nothing wrong with having pictures of this kind in your family album.But l bet when your kids grow up they wont be happy about this innocent nudes being exhibited publicly.
Artistic freedom is not more important as childs rights and safety!There is plenty of freedom for art but not need to call art what ever that is created.

paedophilia hysteria has turned the country into an insane and brutal society.

yes it has child porn was still legal in 1985 and any child should not be asked for sex let the child ask for it but they should be a teen so they are not a child 13 is not a child jesus mother was 13 to 15 they just dont know her age when she had baby jesus

They should be charged thats totaly sick

there is a difference between a little kid (5) and a big girl with pubic hair (12); she is to old for pictures like that and such pictures are for the family anyhow not for every pedofile on the net

it is true, fair enough the world is sex crazed and everyone has got a bit scared because of pedofiles but come on, what is the need to put naked pictures of your children in a gallery or on the net. If it is a fond family memory, surely it should stay in the family. The sad and simple fact is there are some perverts out there and I certainly would not put my pictures up for everyone to see of my daughter naked at any age! 5 or 12! whats the point behind it?

Thanks for your comment, it’s always interesting to know what others think about my blog posts. You may not see a need to share such photographs, but obviously there are people who do, whether that’s to innocently share family pictures with other family or friends, or artists who want to reflect on their experiences with their family through photographs, and sharing these images becomes part of their work. Either way, it’s their choice to share those images, and if they want to do that, then it shouldn’t be about whether other people see a ‘need’ or ‘point’ behind it, as it is part of that person’s freedom to deal with images that haven’t caused anyone any harm in whatever way that they choose. It’s your choice not to put photographs of your daughter up online or in a gallery, but equally it’s the choice of others what they do with their own photographs. Someone who desires to share their photos shouldn’t be curtailed from doing so any more than you should be forced to submit your personal photographs for public display. I also think that the idea of perverts and paedophiles is an interesting one, because, without this ‘risk’, what would the point in not sharing photographs be? If there was no drawback, why wouldn’t people put images online to share them if it was guaranteed that it would all be perceived perfectly innocently? Then again, personally, as I think I stated in the original blog post, I see absolutely no issue in individuals thinking the ‘wrong’ thing about pictures in galleries or such like – or even online – since thinking rude, socially unacceptable things about someone in the picture isn’t the same as harm or abuse. It’s just a bit of an icky thought to think that someone might have thought sexual things about a photograph, and I think that’s why people don’t display images, since the possibility of someone thinking something unacceptable about the picture is taken out of proportion, and taken as something that poses a genuine, direct threat, when really it’s just that people have been conditioned not to tolerate any form of sexuality in regard to children, even if it’s just a thought, and therefore indirect and causes no harm.

I can see your ‘point’ of course people should be able to do as they please with their photographs and share them with other people but say for instance the child in this photo “Her rights” she is too small to say or understand whether she wants or wanted pictures of her private parts put on the net or anywhere else. (at the time of photo)

Come on, Of course people relate pedopiles and perverts to nude photos of children. Its a sad fact of life! And who is to say this photograph would not incite a person to more. You dont know, I dont know, it could be harmless but whose to say.

We realise peoples minds can wander and it can be harmless but the point is people should try not to have in-appropriate thoughts of children or not provoke them.

Also, its not an innocent looking photo of a child running around the house or by the swimming pool or sitting in the garden, is it? The atmosphere is dark and its an in-approprite pose cause it is centre spread. These photos are to cause deliberate provacation and push boundaries for her career as a artist and I DO believe in exploitation as a tool but I draw the line here. She has used them to further her career.

I would not even have kept a photo of this nature but kept all the other ones of them dancing around, I would have consiudered my child could possibly not like this when she is older and would consider her rights as a child and my role as a mother to protect her.

Its all about the pose!

i certainly understand why people on both sides of this issue have concerns, the people who are against child nude art are concerned about pedofiles and rightly so; the people that favor child nude art say that children are beautiful and that these pictures are not dirty and once again, rightly so. here is a thought, why not let private family photagrphs stay private until the child turns 18 and then allow them to make their own decisions about publishing them, that way no childs rights are violated and people can still enjoy this beautiful art. i do not find these pictures to be offensive or dirty by the way in fact the girl in the tub is really beautiful, ( i do not mean that in a perverted way) but like a lot of other people i do have concerns about the safty and welfare of children. p.s. i comend you for giving everyone a chance to tell both sides of the story.

my daughter is now 13 and i still see her naked as does her mom and brother, no one and i mean no one outside the family sees her that way and if she wants privacy in the tub she can always request it; she knows she can request it and so does her brother who is 9

Its the same in our house Daddy, nothing wrong with nudity in the right environment and context. Kids should feel natural naked with no complex

she only 12 but it is not porn at all it is nude only only a sick person would want to fuck her not me but i will tell you the true she is a very hot looking girl but only a child so that is why people have to be careful some sick fuck mite get off and that is not right but being nude is ok we were not born with close on

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  • fred whitacre jr: they don,t have any sex invaled why are we so againce children being nude in pictures because of alll the sick fucking rapetist out there children
  • fred whitacre jr: she only 12 but it is not porn at all it is nude only only a sick person would want to fuck her not me but i will tell you the true she is a very hot
  • fred whitacre jr: i see noghting wrong just a nude girl no porn that would be wrong with a child but not worng with a grown up only nude pics of children is ok if no se
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