Feather-ruffling Photography

June 11, 2008 | By Ross McLain | Creative

Bill Henson, from Luminous series 

Bill Henson is the latest photographer to be forcibly censored by state authorities (although he appears to have been exonerated). Police in Sydney raided the gallery where the Australian artist had just opened his latest exhibition of photographs and literally took the photos off the wall, also confiscating copies of some magazines that had reproduced his offending images (only 1000′s of more of those to round-up…). I’m a big fan of Henson’s work, the impossibly dark, sweltering atmospheres are intensely psychological, and seem to have something unsettling, ancient, and universal about them.

Censorship in photography is certainly nothing new, and accusations of pornography (or worse, as in the Henson case, child pornography) tend to play a leading role in that history. Nan Goldin is another recent target that comes to mind, and I just stumbled on the press release for an interesting-looking exhibition titled Controversies that just ended at the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland which focused on the legal and ethical history of photography.

What gets me is these cases is the latent psychology at work in the accusers and authorities that censor the artwork. What seems to offend them is not that the work was made (after all, the mother of one of the models in the Henson case came out in his defense), but their own reaction to the work. Their outrage betrays their having felt a taboo desire they’d thus far repressed to the point of thinking no longer existed, hence the overly vehement histrionics that ensue as they launch their witch-hunt. The Omnipresent Sociopath is invoked to project these forbidden feelings onto and create an ostensible justification for confiscating and destroying the work (casting out the demons), the sight of which would presumably send the O.S. into an immediate and uncontrollable rampage of sociopath-ing. I don’t mean to make light of truly heinous behavior such as child molestation, it’s just that the wrong-headed self-righteous crusades against art that censors repeatedly go on always seem completely misinformed and come off as botched attempts to play the moral hero.

On a related note, there seems to be a (dare I say the word) trend in photography recently (or maybe since the invention of the camera?) for what I call cute-young-naked-things. The leading figure at the moment in this hip-young-naked-ism seems to be Ryan McGinley, aka Ryan-the-youngest-photographer-to-ever-have-a-solo-show-at-the-Whitney McGinley. Here is his most recent photo project, which it looks like he adapted for use in a new music video for Icelandic band Sigur Ros (hint: just click one of the play buttons on the bottom left, you don’t have to sign up on the right. hint #2: possibly NSFW). The latest project looks heavily influence by Bill Henson, albeit it in broad daylight and minus the more grand connotations and subtleties. Other obvious influences on McGinley, and recent predecessors in the history of young-naked-ism, would be Larry Clark, Richard Kern, and Terry Richardson.

I like the work of Marlene Marino, who seems to fit in with this as well, see some of her pictures here.

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