Here we go again.

Published … A censored version of the magazine cover image and, inset, editor Maurice O’Riordan.

Just when an uneasy truce had broken out between the arts community and the rest of us over the whole issue of children being photographed nude in the name of ‘art’, the editor of Art Monthly magazine has poured petrol over the simmering embers.

He’s stuck his proverbial middle finger up at those of us disturbed by the images of naked children in art by featuring a photo of a naked 6 year old girl (taken my her mother, a photographer) on the cover of the industry magazine.Well done, buddy. Great work. Really helpful.

I’ve chosen not to publish the full cover of the magazine because one of my major problems with this whole issue is the way these kinds of images end up on the internet and totally out of context and out of the control of the artist and subject.

A close friend of mine is well connected in the arts world. We’ve been having an on-going debate about this issue since the Bill Henson controversy broke and she has privately expressed surprise that some in the art world have been so surprised that the wider community have been upset and disturbed by these kinds of images of naked kids (she would never express these views publicly because she would be totally ostracised in the art world who insist on a one-voice approach to any supposed threat of ‘censorship’).

But I’m far more hardline in my attitude than she is and yesterday, when this story broke, we were again on the phone duking it out.

According to the Telegraph:

“The July edition of Art Monthly Australia also includes several
provocative photos of children posing naked in adult jewellery as well
as naked teenage girls.In the editorial, Maurice O’Riordan said he chose the 2003 picture of the young girl in the “hope of restoring some dignity to the debate” and to “validate nudity and childhood as subjects for art”.

The image, taken by Melbourne-based Polixeni Papapetrou, is believed to be her own daughter.Mr O’Riordan, who does not have children of his own, told The Sunday Telegraph he did not care if it stirred community complaint. “I believe the image is of a six-year-old girl,” he said.

“Maybe this is bold, but I don’t see the need to give in to that sort of hysteria or the prospect of complaint. “I couldn’t really understand the furore.”

The artist, Ms Papapetrou, said she supports the use of her work pf her daughter for the magazine’s cover.”We need to be clever enough to distinguish art from other types of
images, otherwise we live in danger of eradicating any image of
childhood in this culture for future generations to see.”

Oh man……the ‘defence’ that the picture has been taken by the girl’s mother to me, is immaterial. Just because you are a parent doesn’t mean you can be guaranteed to do the right thing by your children. It’s also bollocks that a child can understand what they are consenting to. What does a six year old understand about the world? Hopefully not nearly enough to understand the implications of appearing naked publicly – an image that will now survive online forever.

My gallery friend thinks there should be guidelines in place about artists working with children – lord knows there are strict rules about working with children in every other field – and to restrict the publication of such images on the internet so they can remain in context on gallery walls.

I agree with that but I’ll go further. I don’t believe children need to be photographed naked. I don’t.
Spare me the arguments about what happened in the 18th century with painters and scupltors…..thankfully we understand a whole lot more now about protecting children. And photography is a completely different and more intimate medium.
And I maintain that the right of a child to privacy and protection will always trump the right of an ‘artist’ to ‘artistic freedom’.

The fact that the editor of this magazine is so outrageously naive and arrogant as to say he “doesn’t understand the furore” does the art world that he represents no favours. I only with that more people within the arts community would speak up with their concerns and nuanced opinions. Because at the moment, it’s seeming very black and white and that they speak with one voice. A voice that says those of us who are troubled by what we see as the potential exploitation of these child models – for artistic and financial gain by adults – are in favour of widespread censorship.

We’re not. Just some more common sense and responsibility when it comes to looking after children.

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