Monday, August 22, 2011

Report this image

I was doing a Google Image Search this morning. (I love Google Images!), when, among the images I expected for my key word, I saw one that perturbed me. It was a picture of a very young girl, her long hair brushed to cover yet reveal her naked upper body, looking at the camera with all the wrong sort of knowledge in her expression and demeanour. I really didn't like it, partly because another unpleasant site (dodgy in a different way) had got me wondering about the kind of people who found this word significant. I was fairly sure I wouldn't like what I found.

The upshot was a report to Google about a paedophilia site that had slipped through the net. Actually, two reports to Google, and one to Interpol, because I couldn't work out how to do the required digital signature without the help of the extremely kind and technosavvy NZM, who agreed with me about the content and implications of the site, and worked out where I was going wrong.

She also sent me this link to a story in an Australian newspaper, Photo withdrawn after child prostitution claim. It makes interesting reading.

I'm not uploading the photo under discussion because, while I don't entirely agree with the accusation that it shows a mother prostituting her child, I do think that the mother has put the legitimate explorations of a creative artist above the rights and wellbeing of the child she is morally and legally charged with protecting and guiding. How pompous do I sound? I thought so.

But we're in difficult semantic waters here, and maybe, in this case, it's God that's in the details

I believe in freedom of speech. I believe in a free press as an extension of freedom of speech, and a source of informed reflection, debate and action. I believe in the role of the artist as a mirror, and sometimes projector, of society and human values and experience. I therefore have some sympathy with the position of Jeff Moorfoot, director of the Ballarat International Photo Biennale, and recognise the truth of Alistair Foster's assertion that this photograph is "an example of Saudek's interest in depicting "love in its many forms", in this case how a parent passes on what it is to be an adult to her child."

However, I still don't think that the mother should have allowed the artist to work with her and her child to create this image. Artists and parents have different functions, and should have different priorities, and in my view, as a parent, the welfare of your child trumps the needs of any artist.

Basically, I have a serious problem with getting a child to do this kind of work. Who's to know what the child will make of the experience, or what the fallout may be - not least, in this case, from the notoriety she'll attain, given that this high-profile work will soon be all over her school and neighbourhood and, decades hence, will be still be available worldwide.

Let painters and sculptors and photographers "depict love in its many forms", but if we're talking erotic love, then they should consider the reasons underpinning the age of consent in their country, and pursue lines of enquiry that don't involve the actual participation of children.

However, my reservations are not just about children and sexually loaded material, but the whole complex and, at times, oppressive range of adult experience - which they will embrace and learn to deal with in due course, like the rest of us. As I've explained before, I also have the same strong reservations about children in adult movies, either where they have to be able to understand the context on some level, in order to play the role, or they're too young to understand, but are required to be distressed for a scene. Normally, you comfort a distressed child, but it's very difficult to get a shot in one take, so presumably, comfort is withheld until the creative adult's requirements have been met. By whose right? With whose consent? And how did the child come to be crying in the first place, conveniently in shot? Was someone on standby with a camera and mic instead of a bottle or a clean nappy?

And what's our place in this, who pay up for an evening's entertainment? As your teacher said, when you were little and had been bad, Would you do this at home?

Paedophiliacs are bad guys. Artists are good guys, if necessarily a tad selfish in their priorities. But even good guys can overstep boundaries, in which case, in the absence of a guardian angel in this secular age, you'd better hope your mum's got her priorities straight.

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