For the record

From the archives

This is a photo taken of me when I was 14. It was taken at the social nudist club to which my family belonged, in a quiet area of bushland, and I was nude. It was part of a photo-shoot by a fellow member of the club who was a serious hobby photographer, I gave my permission for him to take photos of me and my parents agreed and gave their permission as well.

My father was with us while the photos were taken. My father and the photographer were also nude, as were various other members of the nudist club (duh) who walked past on the nearby bushland track while the photos were being taken. I think my younger sister, aged about 8 at the time, may also have been there for at least part of the photo-shoot, and that it may have been her who drew my hair back from my neck for this particular shot. There was a piece of cloth drapery involved in various positions, because the photographer was going for the look of a classical painting, so sometimes the cloth was draped over one shoulder, sometimes around my hips, sometimes over my hair.

This was a profoundly non-sexual experience for me, and I’m pretty sure for everyone else involved, and yet I’m sure that part of what the photographer wanted to capture was that sense of awkwardness about my developing body, and the sense that people were starting to view me differently as my body changed. I couldn’t avoid feeling awkward and self-conscious about my body at the time, just like most other teenagers, whether or not the actual circumstances of the moment were sexually charged in any way.

I’m equally sure that this experience, which produced some lovely portrait shots that I’m proud to own, colours my reaction to the Bill Henson photo furore. The above photo is not pornography just because I was naked when it was taken. The other photos from the same session that do happen to show a nipple or two are not pornography either. That doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for some of the pictures taken of under-age models by Henson to be pornographic, of course. Just because my experience of such a photo session was entirely positive doesn’t mean that my experience is a benchmark of any sort.

But I can’t deny that the existence of this photo and the memories I have of how it came to be do tend to pushing me to giving Henson the benefit of the doubt. I may be utterly wrong to do so – the man who photographed me never once looked “pervy” as these photos were being taken, and Bill Henson might well be entirely the opposite. But I know from personal experience that it is very possible for a minor to do a nude photo shoot with a trusted family friend, with a parent there for reassurance, and feel entirely unexploited by the incident.

Make of that what you will.

Categories: arts & entertainment, ethics & philosophy, relationships

Tags: , ,

14 replies

  1. I also posted this picture to the discussion over at LP (their second post on Henson), with a summary of the post above, and with these added thoughts:

    As I’ve got older I drifted away from the social nudist movemnent, largely due to the men in my life not coming from that background and not being comfortable with it, so my own children are not as comfortable with it as I was and would be unlikely to consent to being part of such a photo shoot. But if they did want to I can see no ethical reason that they should not (separating ethics from possible legal considerations).
    A possible ethical compromise regarding consent for those under the age of legal self-sovereignty might be that if the adolescent and parents consent to being photographed, that the negatives/digital card containing the images be legally sequestered until the adolescent becomes a legal adult, and then and only then could they sign a release form for the image’s publication. How does that strike people with regard to the issue of consent?

    and then I had some further thoughts in comments there that I would like to add here as well:

    tigtog at 100, that’s a gorgeous photo!
    Thanks, Kim. I’m very glad I have it, looking back from my comfortably padded middle age. Not to say that I didn’t scrub up OK in my twenties and thirties, and even still now for those who don’t mind the added upholstery, but at age 14-15 I had that certain fleeting coltish grace that is the peculiar adolescent aesthetic, and which does not always have to contain an erotic component merely because the adolescent body is developing the secondary sexual characteristics of adulthood.
    I can totally see why the adolescent is an enduring subject of the artist without any particular nefarious subtext being involved. Obviously, it is right to examine whether darker, predatory impulses are in play, but it shouldn’t be assumed that it is only in the realms of the sexual that adolescence has an aesthetic appeal.

  2. Thanks for the post, tigtog. Aside from the beautiful image, you write with a nuance that is absent from huge slabs of this “debate”.

  3. Thanks Zoe. It is a nice shot, although I know the photographer was technically dissatisfied with it, particularly wishing that he’d captured more detail and contrast in the hair. Still, I like it.

  4. Absolutely gorgeous. Thanks so much for posting this sane, personal response to the hysteria that is going on.

  5. tigtog, I really appreciate your approach to this debate. You’re clearly coming at it calmly and open-mindedly. You’ve posted on a personal experience and some questions have formed in my mind after reading this post, but feel free to answer some or none depending on whether you want to.. they’re personal, so I totally get it if you find them out of bounds.
    You chose a very demure shot, why? Is it purely because you’re not sure about the legality of posting shots of naked 14 yr olds or are you less comfortable with the more revealing photos in a public space?
    When you agreed to pose for these photographs did you consider the possibility that the photos may accidentally come into the hands of a paedophile one day? If so, how did you resolve that for yourself?
    I imagine that at 14 you had no concept that the Internet might be this big thing one day so you wouldn’t have considered how you felt about the photos on the net but if you now discovered the photographer had uploaded them on to an art site how would you feel about it? How would you feel about seeing people discuss the merits of the photos, interpreting your expressions in the photos?
    Looking at the photos, how much of the poses and the expressions reflect you and who you were and how you related to your body, and how much of them reflect the photographer’s ideas and interpretations?
    Around this age, I imagine like me, you started getting leered at quite a lot by men, albeit outside the nudist club, but did this interfere with being a nudist at this age, or were they very separate things for you?
    I don’t have an agenda here, at least I hope I don’t, I am genuinely fleshing out my understanding of a teenager with a different experience of her self-consciousness to me.

  6. The main reason I chose that shot is because that’s the one that’s hanging on a wall, rather than being in a box somewhere with my school photos. I had a look, but I couldn’t find the appropriate box easily, so I just stuck with that one. Besides, most of the shots were quite demure. There were a few with the single shoulder drape so that one breast was bare that I wouldn’t hesitate to post if I could find them.
    I don’t think I really knew the word paedophile at the time, but I certainly did think about whether the images might come into the hands of a ‘perv’. The photographer did want to exhibit a few of the images with his camera club, but he gave us approval, and I was happy with that. I decided that it really didn’t bother me if some perv got his kicks from looking at my picture, but of course this is something nudists are used to if they use nudist beaches at all – there’s always a few pervs with binoculars around. Looking couldn’t hurt me.
    If I found some of those images on the net, at my current age, it wouldn’t disturb me. It may have disturbed me at a younger age, although I’m not sure. Again, people looking can’t hurt me. Discussions of the photos’ merits are the photographer’s territory. My expressions? I would probably be intrigued by what other people who didn’t know me saw in my purely physical representation. I was always prone to intellectualising, even at that age.

    how much of the poses and the expressions reflect you and who you were and how you related to your body, and how much of them reflect the photographer’s ideas and interpretations?

    Hm, I’m not sure that my memories of the day are quite that specific. He had a theme of Renaissance paintings that he was working with, and I had some art books and knew about that, so there was a sense of play-acting within that context. I tended to come up with the basic poses myself, and then he would ask me to move an arm a little, or tilt my face a little, or raise a shoulder a little to make a better composition, so it was a collaboration. Also, he was only a hobbyist, so it’s not like he had a fully formed artistic vision that he wanted to mold me into – it was all rather tentative, really.
    As to leering etc, I wasn’t that conscious of it because most of my spare time was either spent doing sport or reading books. I was quite genuinely oblivious to much of what others were doing most of the time, unless I was hyperconscious of a boy on whom I had a crush. I think the experience of seeing naked bodies of all shapes, sizes and ages at the nudist club made me less judgemental about both my own body and the bodies of others, so therefore I was naively less self-conscious of my body than most of my school-friends, while at the same time having all this knowledge about naked bodies that they did not (remember I also had the Dad who was the Family Planning Association presenter, so I knew all about reproduction and contraception as well).
    I definitely knew that many of my peers found my knowledge, combined with a certain level of invincible naivety about peer pressure games, rather intimidating, and I kinda enjoyed that. Mind you, only a few of my girlfriends knew that I was a nudist, because we only went one weekend a month (unlike some of the other kids whose parents took the family there every weekend) so it wasn’t the only activity I had to talk about/be notorious for.

  7. P.S. On reflection, once I was a little older and did become aware of men/boys leering, the nudist club with its culture of no staring and no squeezing/pinching/tickling was a definite refuge.

  8. On unintentionally providing fodder for a pervert, when I was 16 my high school English teacher gave a story I’d written to the local newspaper, which published it, all of this unknown to me until it was actually printed (though I’d have said yes for sure if asked.) This story was an imagined confrontation between a teenage girl and an aggressive Alsatian. And its appearance in the paper attracted to me the attention of a notorious pedo/rapist, first with letters sent to me care of the school, and later with less distantly mediated attention. This guy is actually getting out of jail sometime in the next week or two, and you’ll hear about it, although it remains to be seen whether the authorities will allow the media to publish his name.
    The point I’m trying to make is that short of living in a fortress there’s really nothing you can do that won’t be interpreted deviantly by a deviant, so the initiative lies with the rest of us not to allow the deviant to dictate what we will and will not do and where we will draw our boundaries.
    I’m very pleased you’ve posted this picture Tigtog, firstly because it’s beautiful, and secondly because it demonstrates that the rational pleasures of expression are worth enjoying in spite of the minority who are determined to spoil them for the rest of us.

  9. Sorry for not responding to this yesterday, Laura – it all got a bit involved keeping up with the various Henson discussions and I got a bit lost as to who had said what where.
    Your particular experience with a perv sounds far more disturbing than any of my distant awareness that pervs were around the place ever was. So much worse to think that the perv has a special interest in how your mind works, and knows your name and residence etc, than just to know that there is some purposeful voyeurism confined just to the body happening when you’re out in public.

    The point I’m trying to make is that short of living in a fortress there’s really nothing you can do that won’t be interpreted deviantly by a deviant, so the initiative lies with the rest of us not to allow the deviant to dictate what we will and will not do and where we will draw our boundaries.

    I think this is very important. There is a distinct difference between drawing the attention of a deviant, and being directly acted upon by a deviant. Boundaries for legal intervention need to be confined to the realms of actual harmful acts, not thoughts and desires, even the thoughts and desires that most of us find repulsive and alarming, because that way lies the draconian thought police.

  10. Good photo
    It wasn’t so long ago that teenagers could get married – there wasn’t the modern obsession with pretending that teenagers are not sexual beings

  11. Of course, one of the major reasons teens did get married in earlier generations is that it was possible to be financially independent – with a level of income that could cover a dwelling, clothing and food for a family – as a young farm or factory worker.
    Not so easy to do now, so it only tends to happen for moral reasons like an unplanned pregnancy and a traditional family.


  1. Blogger on the Cast Iron Balcony » Blog Archive »
  2. Retired police superintendent’s view on the politicisation of complaints against Henson’s work at Hoyden About Town
  3. Where angels fear to tread (more thoughts on the ethics of art and sexualising the child) « blue milk
%d bloggers like this: