28 May 2008, Comments Off on You’d think it was the Muppet show, but different Henson

You’d think it was the Muppet show, but different Henson

Author: Helen

For the last couple of weeks, longer than the furore over Bill Henson’s photographic exhibition, this photograph has stared out of the Entertainment pages of the local paper.

Rightly or wrongly (and we’ll probably never know), people have speculated for over a century about whether there was something creepy about Charles Dodgsons’ photographic sessions with the young Alice Liddell.

As Pavlov’s Cat points out, this child photograph, with the mildly disturbing come-hither expression and the dress falling off the shoulder, may be as problematic as any of the Henson photos, but no-one has called for its removal from the AGE entertainment section. Maybe it’s because she’s clothed. As Tigtog says, there is a certain conflation of sex and nudity going on, that should be questioned. Meanwhile, the marketing to little girls continues; sex-ay young adult-style clothes, highly sexualised Bratz dolls, tweenage fashion models and catalogue photo shoots using come-hither looks and poses, computer games that teach girls the man chasing meme at an age when they should be out climbing a tree, billboards with “Longer lasting sex” two metres high which you can’t escape; where has Disgusted of Burwood been all this time?

As Lauredhel says,

Plenty of feminists have been having plenty of problems with some or all of the above for a long, long time. Sometimes I really do feel invisible.

I agree with Clive Hamilton (via Tigtog) that perhaps the well has been poisoned by the commercial exploitation of young girls. In other words, it’s because so many advertising gurus and toy or game designers have cynically tried to drag early adolescents into adult-land that people have been unable to visually read Henson’s work any other way. I do agree that his work is very disturbing, but defining it as pr0nographic is not as straightforward as Disgusted of Burwood would like to think.

I also think that the concerns that many people have with the issue of consent are valid. There is just no one straight answer to this one.

Update: More from Sorrow at Sill’s Bend.

Comments (0)

  • su says:

    It is great to read a post that acknowledges that there are valid reasons for disquiet, Helen. In the rush to either furiously condemn or furiously defend a bendy issue is being hammered to fit straight answers.

  • Helen says:

    I have the advantage of having seen a Bill Henson exhibition- about two years ago if my creaky memory serves. So I have a mental benchmark that’s not just the few images committed to the press, which of course are the most shocking, because that’s what the media wants.

    There was one that was very disquieting (lovely word Su) to me, which was more suggestive of violence between the photo’s subjects than between subject and photographer. On the other hand, many of his photographs don’t feature nude bodies at all, because that’s not primarily what he’s about (I think). They’re certainly very, very dark, all of them.

  • kate says:

    I suspect the reason people don’t get angsty about the Alice Liddell picture, or Chloe, or ancient Greek urns, or the very rude etchings of witches I had to look at for uni for that matter, is that those works of art are old.

    I imagine if the witch etchings had been recent photographs my lecturer would have preceeded them with some sort of warning (they’re not just naked, there are broomsticks being put to unconventional uses). He probably wouldn’t have used them at all if they’d been recent photographs, what with being a lovely gentlemany type.

    I started wondering this morning if Australians generally are more familiar with pron than art.

  • Pavlov's Cat says:

    “this photograph has stared out of the Entertainment pages of the local paper.”

    Good lord, has it really? Apropos of what? I know the image of old and have always been a bit spooked by it — what on earth is it doing in the Entertainment pages of the Age?

  • Helen says:

    Apropos of the Victorian Opera, “Through the Looking Glass” at the Malthouse.

    Strapline is “”I am real!” said Alice, and began to cry.”

    I had noticed that picture and I’d assumed that was why you chose it – but it certainly would be one which comes to mind if you were thinking of NQR photographs in history.

    It’s been cropped to waist height so she seems much more to be looking sidelong at you.

  • I think the elephant in the room here is what Kate said : Most australians are more familiar with porn than art. So that a lot of the critics have a wider experience of erotic or sexualised depiction (is all porn erotic? – I think not) than they have of art.

    Not all art is well done. A lot is clumsy and blunt – just like porn. I see a lot of Juan Davila’s stuff as a bit juvenile and clumsy and blunt and obvious.

    There is wider awareness of child sexual abuse in the last 20 years or so but more acute in the last 5 years. This does call for a re-evaluation the notion of permission, context and images. Clearly no one would suggest that if a 13 year old person and her or his parents gave permission for a set of sexually explicit movies then that would be ok.

    How then are we to deal with permission of the young person (or parents) for unclothed or even clothed suggestive portraits in which sexuality is involved? The debate is needed even if the current way it is framed is crude.

  • Helen says:

    Yes I think it does mean we have to reevaluate permission and adequate consent. The girl featured in the news reports may have felt fine coming out of the studio, but how does she feel now that the world media have made a meal of her? I wonder how some of her less mature peers might have reacted? Was she old enough to have foreseen this as a possible consequence?

    I had a lot of sympathy for a throwaway line someone said in a news report, that there is no place for police to be raiding art galleries. Until I remembered that I had posted about an instance where it would be completely appropriate.

  • Oz Ozzie says:

    The longer lasting sex billboards make me laugh. “Nasal delivery”? is this some kind of new technique thing that I am yet to be educated about? Some variation on the Maori’s nose-rubbing greeting? But they are inappropriate when you have an eight-year old girl in the car who asks what it means.

    But the horse has bolted in that regard long ago.

  • Pavlov's Cat says:

    “I had noticed that picture and I’d assumed that was why you chose it”

    Nope — here in Adders, predictably enough, we tend not to get the Age unless we go out of our way, especially since it abandoned its brief but noble effort to become (at least to some extent) a national paper. Online only these days. But I used to teach Victorian literature so the picture is very familiar to me, and has always weirded me out — although a bit of discriminating online scrounging before I posted it at PC has led me to conclude that the speculation about Dodgson’s dodgy proclivities is probably a beat-up.

  • blue milk says:

    Nice post on the furore and its state of play.

  • Helen says:

    Why thank you, Ms Milk. *Curtseys*

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