Nan Goldin closure at Baltic, UK

Discussion in 'Book, Magazine, Gallery Reviews, Shows & Contests' started by David H. Bebbington, Oct 12, 2007.

  1. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

    Messages:
    2,364
    Joined:
    Dec 12, 2004
    Location:
    East Kent, U
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I see from this week's British Journal of Photography that the Nan Goldin show "Thanskgiving" at the Baltic Art Center in Gateshead, North-East UK, has closed as the result of the withdrawal of the entire 139 images by their owner, Elton John. This was subsequent to the police visiting the gallery at the request of the gallery management, who feared prosecution for obscenity for showing an image "Klara and Edda Belly-Dancing" of two little girls playing around in an apartment, one of which (aged maybe 2 or 3) was lying naked on the floor with genitals exposed. The police removed this image after visiting the gallery (emphasize, by invitation) and were trying to decide whether it was obscene or not at the time of the closure of the show. I would guess the reason Elton John pulled the pictures was irritation at being branded indirectly as a pervert.

    What do people think of this case? I feel on the one hand the image in question was needlessly provocative, on the other I think it ominous that the gallery and the owner of the work have reacted so extremely and prematurely (surely if the police had felt the work was obscene, they would have ordered the show closed immediately?). Would be interested in others' views.

    Regards,

    David
     
  2. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

    Messages:
    18,032
    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2004
    Location:
    West Midland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    It is worth reading the press release by Elton Johns photography curator Jane Jackson.

    Press release


    It is yet another case of the British police taking it on themselves to become the moral arbitors. Note the image was made in 1998 and has been shown widely around the world.

    Ian
     
  3. Matthew Gorringe

    Matthew Gorringe Member

    Messages:
    461
    Joined:
    Apr 29, 2006
    Location:
    Sydney, Aust
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Hi David,
    I'm not surprised that Elton John removed the pictures. Here in Australia one news channel led with a headline that read "Child porn confiscated from Elton John's private collection", shame on you *** news.

    Personally I don't think the picture is obscene, I don't like it at all but I do think there's a problem when children's genitals in normal settings are considered obscene.

    I think that our current problem with paedophilia is directly linked to our sexualisation of younger and younger children. By classifiying this picture as obscene we only reinforce the warped view of some that children are sexual.

    Children are children, if they are not ashamed of their bodies then why should we make them ashamed? Having said that I do think that taking pictures of their innocence and calling it art and selling it for wads of cash could be exploitative, regardless of any fees paid to the children as models.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 12, 2007
  4. johnnywalker

    johnnywalker Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,260
    Joined:
    Sep 23, 2002
    Location:
    British Colu
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    The photo has been around for years and shown at many respectable venues, without this sort of fuss. Why did the Baltic Art Centre feel the need to bring the police in? Probably some administrator felt the need to do something "important". What did they expect the police to do but take it away for evaluation? I'm sure they don't think themselves qualified to judge.
     
  5. walter23

    walter23 Member

    Messages:
    1,189
    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2006
    Location:
    Victoria BC
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    I said this on largeformatphotography.info/forum already so I'm not going to be nearly as verbose here.

    The problem with that image is that frankly I think it does depict something that is mildly sexual. Maybe you guys all had very different childhood experiences, but I remember messing around (innocently and really not that seriously) with neighborhood kids as part of what I think would be considered normal sexual development. Some of the scenes probably looked like that picture (I found it on google after the scandal erupted, it has since been pulled from the link I found so I can't link to it for this discussion).

    Frankly I don't think adults have any business getting involved with this kind of scene, either in reality, or by photographic proxy. Remember that photography requires the presence of at least one adult anyway - the photographer.

    Childhood presexuality is the domain of children and adult involvement in it is pretty well known to have detrimental effects.

    I'm not interested in seeing it. I don't think it's good for the children involved in the actual photographic act. And there's the very slight chance that it could precipitate some pedophilic feelings in the wrong person (though I suspect an image like that wouldn't just make Joe Average into a pedophile, it takes something else, often childhood sexual abuse of the pedophile).

    There's a world of a difference between plain nudity, and nudity that has sexual overtones. That image belongs in the latter category, and so it's not our business as adults to be involved in any way.

    I might be way off base in my interpretation here, but like I said, kids mildly messing around with other kids seems normal from everything I know (and everything I've heard from other people with whom I've been close enough to have these kinds of frank discussions). Adults getting involved is not.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 12, 2007
  6. walter23

    walter23 Member

    Messages:
    1,189
    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2006
    Location:
    Victoria BC
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    I just want to clarify; what I was talking about in my previous post was not sexuality in the sense of adult sexuality. Obviously kids don't have sex. But didn't you play "I'll show you mine, you show me yours" and that kind of thing with other kids in the neighborhood when you were a kid? I think I saw mention in some psychology textbook that this kind of thing is a perfectly normal part of development. If not, maybe it was just my neighborhood :wink:

    In any event, I don't think adults belong in that arena, because adults *are* sexual, and so they really can only interpret these kinds of presexual play acts as something sexual. In that respect I think photography of that kind of thing does prematurely sexualize the kids. And everybody knows that's bad. It screws with normal social and sexual development and ruins people.
     
  7. Matthew Gorringe

    Matthew Gorringe Member

    Messages:
    461
    Joined:
    Apr 29, 2006
    Location:
    Sydney, Aust
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Yes I think "doctors and nurses" is pretty universal but I'm not sure that it is really sexual. I also don't agree that adults necessarily interpret scenes including genitals or presexual play as sexual. I think most of us can remember some time in our youth and giggle at how innocent we were.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 12, 2007
  8. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

    Messages:
    9,436
    Joined:
    May 24, 2005
    Location:
    Washington DC
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Frankly, if I were in Sir Elton's shoes, I would not only have pulled the exhibit from the gallery, I'd sue them for the value of the image, if the police retain it. The gallery had no business doing that. If the gallery manager was concerned about the image, the time to say something about it was during negotiation of the loan with Sir Elton, not after the show was hung on the wall. It speaks of several cultural phenomena - moral busybodyness and the cult of celebrity. The gallery manager must have been so star-struck at having "Sir Elton" loan them work that they either just said yes to anything and everything without question just because it was Elton, or they turned a blind eye when agreeing to the show because having Elton John's name associated with the gallery would be a big boost and loads of free publicity. In either case, it is a huge betrayal of trust, and if I were a major collector of art with a collection to loan, you can bet that I would NEVER loan works to that gallery, regardless of content.

    That said, it isn't an image I would ever have bought, or an image I would ever have made. It makes me squirm to look at it, but then perhaps that's the point, and as such it succeeds as a work of art, because it makes you think. I don't like it also because it is a high example of the "artless art" mode of photography, in which cult Nan Goldin is a high priestess. I think it feels more pornographic because it is so artless and amateur in style, so it feels like a polaroid still from a 70's porn set, kind of like that series of ads Calvin Klein did for either his underwear or for a new cologne back in the 90s, where he had what appeared to be teenagers essentially stripping for the camera, in front of some cheesy faux-wood paneling, while taking direction from an off-camera voice (incidentally, the man providing the off-camera voice was in fact a porno director). The ads didn't last very long at all - I think they ran about 1 week, then got pulled over the controversy.
     
  9. Shiny

    Shiny Member

    Messages:
    265
    Joined:
    Jul 8, 2006
    Location:
    Newcastle up
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    as far as i know the exhibition didn't even open - so no one even saw it.... very odd. I would normally go to anything photographic at the Baltic working next door at the Sage and all - but i didn't know this was even on until it was off...

    The Side Gallerys current exhibition on the opposite bank is fantstic though, and well worth a visit if you happen to be in Newcastle.

    Jim
     
  10. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

    Messages:
    18,032
    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2004
    Location:
    West Midland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I think TheFlyingCamera and Matt have both made some extremely well thought out and pertinent comments about the image and the exhibition, and I fully agree with them both.

    If you read further about the police investigation you will find that they are also looking into previous owners of the image, this copy and presumably others. Does this mean asking US police to investigate art collector Elaine Dannheiser who sold a copy at Sothebys ?

    What ever we might think about an individual image, or the work as a whole, incidents like this show that common sense does not always prevail.

    Ian
     
  11. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

    Messages:
    18,032
    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2004
    Location:
    West Midland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    A further twist to the whole saga, the Saatchi Gallery in London have "confirmed the picture was the same one seized from the "I Am a Camera" exhibition in 2001".

    This really does raise very serious issues about the management of the Baltic Art Center, particularly as the London police and CPS officials later backed down, saying there was no realistic prospect of securing a conviction in the case. It was the photographer they were considering charging.

    Ian
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 12, 2007
  12. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

    Messages:
    4,913
    Joined:
    May 17, 2006
    Location:
    Northern Aqu
    Shooter:
    35mm RF
    There seem to me to be several conflated issues here, only one of which is 'Is it obscene?' The big underlying question is 'What is art?' and another one is 'Who decides the answer to either question?' Then there's 'Do we ban all pictures of all children at all times because they might turn someone on?'

    Personally, I don't like the picture, but then, I don't like that style of photography (pseudo-snapshot, harsh flash, ugly backgrounds, awkward poses). Some do, and I suspect that if you do, it's probably quite good.

    The whole episode looks like to me is an unholy alliance of the Hitlerite attitude towards 'degenerate art' and gutter-press anti-paedophile hysteria. Apparently the picture has been exhibited outside the UK without any particular problems, and I believe it even appears in a book (source for both assertions: BJP). If there hadn't been all this fuss, I can't help feeling that Nan Goldin fans would have liked it and most others would have ignored it.

    None of this affects my views that it's in poor taste and an ugly picture; that it's probably quite a nice snap for the parents; and that trying to ban it as 'kiddie porn' is very nearly as sick as those who are turned on by it.
     
  13. markbb

    markbb Member

    Messages:
    585
    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2005
    Location:
    SE London.
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    Compare the relatively low-level of noise this has generated in the gutter press to the almightly bashing the Baltic would have got if a daily mail reader had reported seeing kiddie-porn at the exhibition?

    Like you Roger, I think its a crap photo, but I also think the photographer knowingly courted publicity when she published the image.
     
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. unhinged

    unhinged Member

    Messages:
    48
    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2007
    Location:
    London
    Shooter:
    35mm RF
    If the book is the Devils Playground then it was on the shelf in Borders in London only two weeks ago when I was in there. It was sealed in celophone though I've seen the photo and didn't feel the need to see any more of the work.

    I think the exhibition centre's getting a lot of flak for being cautious. I think there are images such as this one that one person may find a work of art and others that find the picture distasteful even pornographic (someone must otherwise this fuss wouldn't have kicked up?).
     
  16. Les McLean

    Les McLean Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,609
    Joined:
    Oct 18, 2002
    Location:
    Northern Eng
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Regardless of whether or not I like the image I object to being told by the police, the crown prosecution office, the government or anyone else for that matter, just what I can and cannot look at in an art exhibition. Clearly, if an image includes sexual activity against a child I'd join in the demands to remove it and take action against those who made the image, as well as the gallery who show it. This one did not and although it did show a child's genitals I personally was not disturbed by that. These things happen every day in some families throughout the world. How about images of naked children in African countries, are we going to see those banned too?
     
  17. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Messages:
    8,003
    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2003
    Location:
    Milan
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    This and Les's comment best reflect my views. Its a sad day when the state tries to protect us from finding something evil in something that is inherently natural and innocent. This is fundamentally no different than making women cover themselves from head to toe so that men can be protected from lustful thoughts.
     
  18. walter23

    walter23 Member

    Messages:
    1,189
    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2006
    Location:
    Victoria BC
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    Yeah, I don't think this is an issue for police officers as much as it is one of public debate. If the police would go after anybody, it would be Nan Goldin (still alive? I know nothing of her), but they'd really have to show something illegal was going on, which doesn't seem to be the case.

    Tasteless? Sure. Illegal? Doubtful (in this case).

    I'm not advocating censorship. I'm advocating voluntarily staying clear of such works and not participating in them by viewing them - a personal approach, not a state approach. The reason is simply that I think it's harmful for the children involved, and I think we all share the responsibility for that. In any case, art-as-controversy is a ridiculous cliche; I think there have been enough artists by now who've made that trite little point :wink:
     
  19. walter23

    walter23 Member

    Messages:
    1,189
    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2006
    Location:
    Victoria BC
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    I'm pretty much the anti moral-crusader in most respects; adults can fuck themselves in any weird ways they want and in any combinations of genders and with any props they want, in public or in private, as far as I'm concerned. Hang a picture of a penis entering a vagina in a public place for all I care. Actually I encourage you to do so; it would be sort of a riot.

    But I think this image is potentially harmful. The kids can't give informed consent, and that alone is a major factor in the publication of this kind of private moment. In a different society with different attitudes about sex it might be perfectly fine, but the prevailing sentiment in north america and many parts of europe is that sexuality is private and in many circles even shameful (I disagree strongly with this, and would challenge it at any reasonable opportunity, but it's a fact). The public display of it in this case is therefore putting the kids in a position of exhibition that they may not be aware of at the time the image is taken, but may cause them shame and self-disgust in the future (or may have caused them such, as I think this image comes from the 70s or something doesn't it?). This is harmful. Children shouldn't need to bear the brunt of fringe adults' attempts to reform social norms, even if those adults' intentions are nothing but good. This kind of thing can hang over someone their whole life and taint it, subconsciously or consciously. That's not an experiment I'm willing to participate in or advocate for the sake of fighting censorship.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 12, 2007
  20. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

    Messages:
    18,032
    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2004
    Location:
    West Midland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Walter, on the previous occasion the image was seized from the Saatchi gallery this Nan Goldin's image was returned to the Gallery by the Police and rehung. I should add two photographers images were seized in 2001, and returned, the press mainly centred on the other American photographer at the time.

    So what makes this even more of a farce is the Newcastle Police haven't done their work properly, and have behaved heavy handedly, and the gallery itself has shown gross incompetence. Whoever booked the exhibition should be severely reprimanded. I note it was an Assistant Director who called in the Police, but shouldn't he have know far earlier what they were actually exhibiting, after all the image in question is published in a book.

    The bottom line is the gallery should have known that image was potentially controversial, and also the outcome of the previous police investigation, they have actually caused a huge waste of Police time, and money.

    Lets face it the Police and CPS would get laughed out of court if they tried to charge Elton John with possessing child porn over an image like this. Alternately if Nan Goldin was prosecuted then no photo processor would be able to print any innocent images parents take of their young children naked.

    We might not like the images, and the way Nan Golding works but she is photographing aspects of modern society which many of us would prefer not to be associated with. Her work will grow in importance over the next few years because she transcends different strata's of society, and is documenting a way of life.

    Ian
     
  21. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

    Messages:
    25,771
    Joined:
    Apr 19, 2005
    Location:
    Rochester, NY
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Well, this was mentioned on another thread, but what about the book "Show Me"? It was endorsed by several prominent educators and religious groups in the 70s for being a quality sex eduation book. I guess today it is porn!

    PE
     
  22. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Messages:
    8,003
    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2003
    Location:
    Milan
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Walter are you a head doctor of some sort? How and when are these kind of photographs damaging? Has there been a study? I'm not saying that an image like this couldn't be damaging, but I suspect the conditions need to be 'right.' I also suspect the images can be positive (well, maybe not the one in question) influences as well.

    In the abstract censorship is bad. In practice some images can be bad. In practice censorship is worse. If documenting a kid being a kid can in some way damage them, then maybe the image shouldn't be published until the kid is of age and can give his/her ok to the image. I'm not convinced.
     
  23. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

    Messages:
    25,771
    Joined:
    Apr 19, 2005
    Location:
    Rochester, NY
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    When you have a house full of kids of mixed gender 5, 6, 7 and 7, and it is bedtime and you are the only babysitter, it is kinda hard to hold them down. You tell the boys "go here" and the girls "go there" and suddenly you find them all bare in one room playing air guitars just before bath time.

    All you can do is laugh. And believe me, 4 kids that age seems like a housefull.

    All of the wives said "how did you handle them all?" when they got back from ladies night out. I was still laughing.

    With 5 of them on another occasion, they all ate a whole watermelon and kept us awake all night long using the bathroom. That was funny too. But, we warned them not to. They snuck out in the night and ate it anyhow "to see what would happen". They got so desparate that there were at least 2 or 3 in the bathroom urging one another to 'hurry its an emergency'.

    Kids will be kids. We were treated to a day of "potty humor" after that episode.

    Kids don't give concent nor can they, but they do a lot of odd things all on their own.

    Is it evil? Bad? Tasteless? Or, just very funny?

    PE
     
  24. walter23

    walter23 Member

    Messages:
    1,189
    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2006
    Location:
    Victoria BC
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    The fact that adult sexual interference with children is damaging is well documented. There probably aren't enough cases of high-profile artists publishing child pornography to get data on this specifically, so we have to generalize.

    As a bit of an aside or question for debate, which I'd point out isn't the crux of my argument here, one could imagine that if that image was being distributed by pedophiles for purposes of masturbation, it would be called child porn without much debate. Why does high-profile "artistic" publication change its status?
     
  25. walter23

    walter23 Member

    Messages:
    1,189
    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2006
    Location:
    Victoria BC
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    The content of her work as a whole is not the issue here; only this one photograph is.
     
  26. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Messages:
    17,940
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Honolulu, Ha
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    There's more context and history there than just the label of "art." This is one image that is part of a meaningful body of work that affects how we read it.

    Some will say that each individual image needs to stand on its own, but as I see it, some work that way, and some don't. An individual Becher photograph of a water tower is nothing special, but nine of them in one frame is interesting. Nan Goldin's work is narrative and project oriented, and makes more sense as a book or an exhibition than as so many individual photographs. If you look at the photograph in isolation, then I would say you're not really looking at Goldin's work, which is a project.