Quote Originally Posted by BrianShaw View Post
True to an extent. Understanding the context in which people behaved within the context of their native environment and times is very important to understanding their beliefes and behaviours. But how does one draw the line on what is or is not moral? Do we excuse racial bigotry (thinking southern US in the 1950s, for example) as acceptable because the majority apparently practiced such beliefs and it was memorialized in the laws? Are bigots and bigotry moral? Were they ever moral, or will they ever be moral? Slavery was and still is socially acceptable in some cultures. Is slavery moral? It seems that every behavior can be rationalized if one constrains the limits of their thinking.
Good, important, but sometimes unanswerable philosophical questions. At least, unanswerable for all people and at all times.
What was once acceptable, even lawful, at one time in a society or culture may now be quite unacceptable, unlawful, and seen as very wrong indeed at another time when society's norms and values have changed. To change the subject under examination for a moment, I reflect on how the early colonisers treated the indigenous people they encountered. In the majority of cases it seems it was very cruelly and the systemic cruelty was enshrined in law. It seems too, that very often the quite sincere belief and justification for this was that it "was for their own good". Others motivated by self-interest and profit saw the indigenous people as no better (and sometimes worse) than animals.
Today such actions are regarded as reprehensible and totally unacceptable. Laws have changed, reparation made in some cases and, belatedly, even an apology offered for the actions of our forebears who, as a society if not individually, were the perpetrators.

It bothers me somewhat that, on our behalf, our governments and agencies are still making laws, rules and implementing systems of management which by comparison seem relatively enlightened, but how will our own well-meaning interventions be seen by a future generation? How sure are we that we are doing the right thing now and not being blinded by our own hubris?

So getting back on the topic, How sure are we that the high moral ground we occupy in passing judgement on the work of a long dead photographer with some unusual preferences for subject matter, is in fact the foundation of human values and decency? Or is it just that from where we stand at present it looks different and in another hundred years people may be making entirely different assessments? Will Mapplethorpe, Newton, and Henson become tarred with the same brush and pilloried, or regarded universally as brilliant pioneers of the genre?