Defining what constitutes pornography is fraught with peril. Most of us know it when it when we see it, but turning a definition of a pornographic image into words, particular words that will be useful in defining other pornographic works, is exceptionally difficult.
Some people have a massive capacity for being affronted, particularly when it comes to visual depictions of nudity or sexual activity. In Melbourne, a single complaint about an art exhibition was enough to close Paul Yore’s art exhibition Artist faces child porn charges
Artist Paul Yore Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui
An example of Paul Yore’s work
Inevitably, the action was not supported by the Courts, as actions against Bill Henson were not.
Wikipedia defines pornography as the portrayal of sexual subject matter for the purpose of sexual arousal. the Oxford dictionary adds display of sexual organs or activity while American law adds the proviso “utterly without redeeming social value”
When it comes to court cases, almost everything, it seems, has some redeeming social ( If not artistic) value and efforts to curb the spread of pornography inevitably wind up looking ridiculous.
The British Parliament has recently outlawed a list of activity being portrayed in videos, including spanking and face sitting.The protest was organised on Facebook by the Sex Worker of the Year 2013, Charlotte Rose, who believes that the new “measures appear to take aim at female pleasure.”
The campaigners had hoped to break the world record for the number of people “face-sitting” at the same time, but the record has been rejected by Guinness World Records.
It is difficult not to form the opinion that adults should be entitled to watch other consenting adults engaging in whatever activities they choose and the censor should keep out of the way.
But there are two areas where quite clear distinctions should be drawn: the depiction of images of young children and the depiction of images that portray violence against women (or one of the sexual partners).
It is useful to look at some of the work of David Hamilton when discussing the boundaries around the portrayal of children. Much of Hamilton’s work is concerned with the depiction of young women, as distinct from children, and their nascent sexuality. A small part of his work is concerned with sexual relationships between these young women. Very few of these images actually depict overt sexual activity.
These are probably not amongst Hamilton’s best work and certainly past suggestive of sexual activity but it would be difficult to categorise these images as pornographic. This is because the idea of pornography being used for the purpose of sexual arousal is a particularly difficult one. Any erotic photographs, these included, will have some element of sexual arousal for some viewers. But it is difficult to argue that this was Hamilton’s purpose and taking these photographs, particularly when you see them in the context of the larger part of his work.
There is another small group of images that portrays sexual behaviour more explicitly but never-the-less relatively harmlessly.
The two left-hand images are taken from the film Cousins and should be seen in the context of the film. All three are arguably a celebration of, rather than a purient interest in, teenage sexuality. These images also focus on the pleasure of the sexual encounter rather than the mechanics of the act. Certainly, it could be argued that these images have some redeeming artistic or photographic value.
The next two images raise some interesting questions.
Are these images celebration of the developing sexuality of two beautiful young women or are they simply a voyeuristic view of two masturbation scenes? Clearly, it is in the eye of the beholder and everybody brings your own prejudices to every picture painting or photograph. However, it does seem to be An element of gratuitous voyeurism in these images.
There are some images where Hamilton gets close to the line between erotic art and pornography and this is is where he begins depicting children rather than young women. these images do not represent the best part of his work.
The first thing it is striking about these images is that the portrayals of the much younger subjects are, for the most part, devoid of any of the joy and celebration of his best work. In the montage above, the vast bulk of the children look disgruntled, distrustful and even unhappy. Perhaps this is an age group that Hamilton was not comfortable with.
Two images, in particular, serve to illustrate the problems arise with the portrayal of these younger subjects
Both of these photographs are characterised by a graphic depiction of the young subjects genitals. Redeeming artistic value? Probably not. Voyeurism? Possibly.
Looking at some of Hamilton’s other work there is certain preoccupation with the genitalia of his subjects.
Redeeming artistic value? Probably not. Voyeurism? Possibly.
Redeeming artistic value? Possibly. Voyeurism? Possibly.
It is inevitable that questions of pornography will arise when examining the work of photographers such as David Hamilton particularly when the work involves the portrayal of young children. The answers to such question will depend on where the line is drawn between the work of an artist and the work of a voyeur.
The question of voyeurism in photography raises difficult issues. Voyeurism involves watching someone involved in some intimate activity without their knowledge. This is clearly not the case with Hamilton. His subjects are always obviously conscious of the presence of a photographer. So the question arises: is the response of the viewer as distinct from the photographer, a necessary component of a definition of pornography. It is quite possible that the photographer’s intent is not pornographic while the viewer’s may well be.
Does this make the photographer complicit in the way that the viewer uses the images? It is hard to argue this case. Yet it’s also difficult to ignore the fact that publishing photographs of young children’s genitals is not in some way contributing the voyeuristic tendencies of some of the viewers.