Here is a short commentary, off the cuff, so to speak, and my
subjective response to this controversy:
reported in the local press, in May 2008 the police raided Roslyn Oxley Gallery in
Sydney and removed a number of photographs by Bill Henson. This happened
just before the opening of the show and in response to a number of complaints.
The police asserted that some photographs of the naked teenage girls can be
considered child pornography and in breach of the law and they are considering
laying charges against Mr Henson and the gallery owners.
This sparked a great uproar and a national debate in the
press. Some people are incensed by this censorship and are defending the
right of artists to freely exercise their artistic freedom and creativity.
Others are accusing the photographer and the gallery owners of peddling
pornographic images of underage girls and boys.
Bill Henson is a prominent and internationally recognised
photographer, his work has been exhibited in and purchased by many national,
state and regional galleries. His photographs attract very high prices.
I do not intend to discuss whether his photographs are pornographic or not, I just want to comment on his work
generally and express my reaction to his images that I have seen.
This is substantially based on two programs about his work shown on ABC television recently and some photos published in the newspapers.
I acknowledge that Bill Henson is a great photographer, who is
most competent technically and who creates the most striking images and with a high degree
of artistic merit. He manages to create a certain moody, brooding and mystical atmosphere, whether a landscape, urban
environment or a person or a group of people. And this is where I become
not only intrigued and puzzled, but critical and questioning his approach.
I find Bill Henson's work quite depressing, especially his
images of teenagers who look abused, depressed, drug addicted, anguished and
probably even suicidal. The mood he creates is very striking, and in
my opinion quite nihilistic, the depiction is pessimistic and the
overwhelming feeling is despair. I do not like the unhappiness and tragedy which dominate the photographs.
On my part as an artist who celebrates the wonders and beauty
of nature and aims to focus on the pleasant side of life, I find Bill Henson's
approach seemingly in direct opposition to mine. I strongly believe in
creating optimistic artworks and try to produce works which can be spiritually
uplifting. So I find it most difficult to admire many of his photographs,
which I find so depressing, have a dark mood and celebrate anguish. I
prefer happy, optimistic, joyful and life affirming artworks.