Bill Henson - Part 3

July 07, 2008

I've written twice previously about the Bill Henson art exhibition that featured photographs of a naked 13 year-old-girl. For overseas readers, this led to much public comment and polarised views on the merits or wrong-doing of his work. Police charges against the artist and gallery followed (Part 1 and Part 2), but recently the charges were droppped. This seems to have encouraged an art magazine to test the boundaries of public acceptability by publishing a photo of a naked 6 year-old on the front cover. The action seems to have been calculated and has sought to promote the view that use of naked photos of children is a legitimate art form.

The picture, taken in 2003 by Melbourne photographer Polixeni Papapetrou of her daughter Olympia appeared on the cover of this month's Art Monthly Australia. The edition also has other photos of naked children. The Age art critic Robert Nelson, reports that "Papapetrou's husband and father of Olympia, now 11, said the family had no regrets and the photograph was a great work of art."

I find it incomprehensible that in a civilised society that there are so many people willing to defend the action of a mother who has photographed her 6 year-old daughter naked in varied unnatural poses and has then shared them with the world. The child's father (an art critic) has supported the publication of the photos in the magazine, and has allowed the girl (now 11 years) to front the media cameras to argue the case for such artistic photos.

While the photos might well be seen by some as art, many see it as a case of child exploitation and perhaps abuse. I am saddened and at the same time outraged by the recent developments and would urge public condemnation and government action to tighten laws in this area.

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has pulled together a collection of recent media reports and information without making any comment. These provide further background and viewpoints.

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