Persecute: harass, hound, pursue, pester, badger, distress, victimize, bully.
It’s an odd thing how those who claim to be acting in the best interests of child models end up being the very people who cause the harm. In this blog I have detailed a number of examples. When Hetty Johnston pursued the photographer Bill Henson she paid no attention to the harm it would cause the model. When former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described a photo as disgusting, the young model Olympia Nelson came out to defend her image. Then there are the highly articulate thoughts of Jessie Mann, daughter of photographer Sally Mann. In her novel, The Effects of Light Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, who has posed for Jock Sturges along with her younger sister Kai, made it absolutely clear that she considered that the main threat were the moral conservatives (this novel has been the subject of a short film Camera Obscura directed by Kai and has been further adapted to feature length).
But when it gets to her New York show, there are some pictures of me, and parts of my body are blocked out with big black boxes. It’s really scary to see my body like that. There are headlines about pornography and a description of a protest where some people were arrested for throwing eggs at the gallery owner. There’s a picture of a man yelling and his hand in a fist and he has a sign that says “Protect our children from filth.” I can guess that he’s talking about our pictures, but only after I think for a minute. It makes me dizzy to see all these words written about us, and all these pictures, and they all seem so angry, my body X’d out, and people shouting. (pg 260).
And so the pattern is repeated in regard to Graham Ovenden. In this case it is the British police on a moral crusade who have, again, persecuted the models. As more evidence comes out about this case we hear awful instances of the harassment of the very people the police pretend to be protecting – the subjects.
After close to 20 years of attempting to ‘get’ Ovenden, out of the close to 70 women who modeled for him, not one instance of sexual abuse has been proved. Not one. Nada. Zilch.
But in the wake of this travesty Police zealotry has alarmed, distressed and no doubt traumatized those models they relentlessly hounded, pressing them to testify against Ovenden.
Perhaps the most disturbing of these cases is that of Maud Hewes. Now I feel I must apologize to Maud if she happens to read this. I am sure she is thoroughly sick of it and resents the continuing controversy. I can understand this. But I feel we must be clear where the blame lies – with the police, not with Ovenden.
Maud is important because she has previously publicly defended Ovenden on several occasions. Unfortunately this made her a prime target for the wrath of the moral conservatives. Because if they hate one thing, they hate people who do not conform to their narrative of the innocent child. She is the model who traveled in 1992 to the US to defend her image against charges of indecency.
Note: The image above is the allegedly indecent image from States of Grace. It was not one of the images found indecent in this recent case (it has been deemed acceptable in several jurisdictions). For a detailed examination of the history of this image please read Graham Ovenden’s States of Grace
Far from finding this image indecent she defended it vigorously.
I have known Graham Ovenden as a family friend for fourteen years – since I was four years old. I have modeled for Graham on numerous occasions – in fact, too numerous to count – for both his photographs and paintings. I have modeled for him both clothed and fully nude, both alone and with other children…. The portrait which the United States has charged as indecent is a portrait of me as I was eight years ago. I am not acting in a sexual way in the picture and Graham never asked me to be sexual or treated me as a sexual object. The accusation that the image is “obscene” is, to me, an accusation that I am “obscene,” something to which I take offense.
She even signed a copy of States of Grace saying:
Dear Graham, Thank you for all the years of friendship I have enjoyed, and for the years to come I hope. Love and best wishes. Maudie
A year later Maud again defended the image, this time to London police.
I decline the idea that any of the images of myself are indecent and emphatically state that I was never abused, or photographed/drawn by coercion. Photographic or life drawing ‘sessions’ were never a prearranged appointment. I was at Graham Ovendens a lot of the time and the Ovendens were, are like a second family to me. Quite a lot of the time Emily and I would ask to be photographed. The only time a session was arranged was for the ‘Alice Project’ between Graham, Brian P and myself. Because it was a project sometimes we would decide that we ought to do some more for the project. The images in the ‘MP 20″ [States of Grace] which I have marked G.O. refer to Graham Ovenden. Graham Ovenden is one of my best friends and also like a father figure.
Maud again defended Ovenden in 1996 (when she was 23), this time on TV for the documentary For the Sake of the Children, in which she appeared with Ovenden’s daughter Emily (who also posed for him and was friends with some of the models, including Maud Hewes).
What follows is a transcript from the documentary:
Emily: I think it’s very dangerous for people to ignore the fact that young girls do have a sexuality. I think it’s a very important part of growing up and being a woman. And to hide your body when you’re a child, and to make it out that it’s something dirty is, I think, very dangerous.
Maud: And wrong.
Maud: I’m not ashamed of any of my photographs: I’m proud. Many of my photographs are published — they hang in collections — they’re nothing to be ashamed of at all.
Maud: When [the police] interviewed me and they looked at my photographs and they were sort of pointing at them and they were condemning — they were “condemned,” they were, like, “pornographic,” and “Didn’t I realise that these people had used me,” and “I was just a child,” and “I didn’t know,” and “how could I possibly know that’s how it happened?” Basically [they said] I had been brainwashed, you know? But he was actually looking at images of myself when he was saying that: “Do you not think this is pornography? Look at this and this and this: is it not pornography?” And it’s a picture of ME!
Maud: The other thing that they did was they took the photographs and they chopped them up — they highlighted bits of them, or they showed a little bit of the photograph. It was completely out of context. And they’d be sort of going, “Oh… yeah…” And it WAS pornographic like that, in a sense.
The allegation that the police altered the images to make them look pornographic is very serious – it is they who have produced the pornography.
In that same year Ovenden’s daughter Emily told The Guardian about the pressure the models had been placed under.
She knows how her friend Maud was reduced to tears, not by the recall of actual events but by the questioning about sexual acts that never took place. She knows how Maud’s father felt threatened and bullied. She knows how traumatised they all were by their contact with the police – so traumatised that she’s certain none of them want to talk about it.
More detail of this harassment was provided by Maud’s stepmother Chrissie.
Later I heard P [a police officer] ask Maud how she felt now she was too old to be Alice. Similar mockery from Maud! H [a police officer] stated categorically in front of me that the Lewis Carroll Society was a cover for paedophiles to exchange photos of young girls! And P told Joseph during his second interview that all this is an attempt to use art to cover up paedophile practice. At this time P also accused Joseph of only just being able to keep the lid on it all – he was protecting others. Emma [another model] too was just managing to do the same – any minute now she would crack and spill out everything about everyone. They offered Joseph a deal – making a not so implicit promise to make things easier for him if he revealed all about everybody. They finished “We’ll be back in three months and this time you won’t know when we’re coming.”
In the car on the way to the pier, appealing to my concern for Maud, he [P] said it had taken a month to get one girl to talk. (I don’t know what age this girl is now or if indeed she is part of this case – I was too intent on getting a photocopy – but the poor girl, he’d obviously kept on and on until he heard what he wanted to hear.)
Is this beginning to sound suspicious? A bit like a witch hunt?
Maud might have thought that the nightmare was finally over when the case collapsed. Not so. She was again interviewed in relation to this most recent case and was again pressured to testify, including by Ovenden’s son Ned, who it has been alleged, has ulterior motives (mainly money). Remember, Maud was good friends with Ovenden’s daughter Emily, who supports her father.
But there was to be a further twist.
The prosecution laid charges on Maud’s behalf alleging that Ovenden had sexually assaulted her, but when it was her turn to testify in court she denied that any such thing had occurred. This incurred the wrath of the prosecutor Ramsay Quaife who apparently placed her under considerable pressure. Despite this she declined to implicate Ovenden.
When she failed to co-operate and with their case collapsing, the police decided to introduce new charges. These were the charges of producing an indecent image – two of these were of Maud. She did say that she now thinks it inappropriate for young girls to model nude as she once did, however, one must conclude that this was said under duress and cannot therefore be considered sincere.
Maud was not the only victim of this witch hunt. They also investigated another unnamed model who had defended Ovenden’s work, published as part of the introduction to States of Grace.
There was a freedom about it — not just being myself, but it showed other possibilities, different from everyday situations. It was nice to be accepted on the level that I was myself and he didn’t used to say “this is so-and-so and she is 10 years old.” In this sense, it was very adult….
Graham didn’t pose me that much. He used to just let me do things and he used to say “that’s OK.” It was quite spontaneous. Sometimes he might have said “pick up your chin” or he might have said something emotive, like “look far away” or things like that. I never felt that he took away “me” as a person.
One of the things that’s very important, I feel, is that the work is very honest. However, erotic the pictures are, however they are provocative, they are honest pictures. We were there. We did those things. It’s not like someone’s faked it. I know that Graham’s an artist, and not to take anything away from him, of course, but the thing is, the people are there. So, it exists and you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist and that sexuality doesn’t exist. So the honesty, I think, is really important and I think people are just stuffy and have a lot of fears about what’s okay and get confused about what’s okay…. It was a very safe environment.
Like Maud, the police alleged that Ovenden had sexually abused her and like Maud, when she finally had her day in court, she denied that any such thing ever happened, and again, like Maud, when she declined to incriminate Ovenden they produced images of her they claimed were indecent.
The social psychology of moral panic demands that any person who denies the narrative of abuse becomes a subject of the witch hunt; are accused of being bewitched, or of being witches.
As I mentioned above, Ovenden worked with close to 70 models, yet the police chose to focus primarily on just two, the two who had publicly defended Ovenden and had appeared in States of Grace.
Apart from the persecution of these models, the disturbing aspect of this case is the sheer ignorance and prejudice of the police. As I have argued on this blog, the naked child as a subject of art is as old as art itself. The practice of using live nude models began with Michelangelo and Raphael, both of whom used child models when needed (some of Michelangelo’s appear in the Sistine Chapel). The academic study of the nude continues into modern times.
It is extremely odd that the British police are so ignorant of this tradition in British art; of the very many public examples; of the works of some of Britain’s greatest painters and sculptors, a great many of them knights of the realm. Certainly the Royal family are well aware of it because some famous works featuring naked children are found in the Royal collection. I was reminded of this while watching a recent documentary celebrating the Queen’s diamond jubilee. One scene showed her walking through Buckingham Palace and there in the background was a statue of a nude ephebe. When I toured Kensington Palace I noticed a couple of examples. Other examples can be found amongst the collections of the great houses (Chatham comes to mind) and the many regional galleries (see Tradition, Elitism and its Opponents).
The ignorance of these investigating police is brought into sharp focus in their comments to Maud’s stepmother Chrissie.
H [a police officer] stated categorically in front of me that the Lewis Carroll Society was a cover for paedophiles to exchange photos of young girls!
Seriously? What paranoid codswallop. Lewis Carroll is a highly influential writer and his creation Alice in Wonderland remains a powerful symbol/trope/archetype that has inspired many diverse artists: from singers, to film makers, to painters and so on. It is highly appropriate for there to be a society to celebrate this iconic author.
And P told Joseph during his second interview that all this is an attempt to use art to cover up paedophile practice.
This statement simply reiterates the great Puritan fear of the nude in art – that it is all a ruse for lasciviousness.
The more I read about this sorry state of affairs the more I see Mr Plods pushing bigoted notions about nudity and art. I find it extraordinary that in a country with extensive examples of the naked child amongst its public statues, many galleries and the palaces of the Royal family, these police have remained obliviously ignorant.
The problem with this ignorance and puritanical bigotry is that it cannot understand that children might enjoy modeling; might find it a wonderful adventure. I have cited many examples of just this in this blog. But as always, I prefer to let the models speak for themselves, in this case we return to Emily Ovenden and Maud Hewes.
Emily Ovenden: We’ve known each other since the beginning; we had a brilliant time!
Maud Hewes: Yeah! Me too.
Emily: It’s like the Garden of Eden down there [at Barley Splatt]. It’s beautiful!
Maud: Yeah, there’s everything — it’s freedom — there’s woods and rivers…
Emily: We were swimming in the river all the time, we were camping, we made camps and rope things…
Maud: …And quite often we would ask…
Emily: …we WANTED to be photographed.
Maud: …to be photographed.
Emily: It would be like, Dad! Dad! Look at the outfits we’ve got…
Maud: …Look what we’ve done!
Emily: …Will you take pictures of us?
Maud: …We can do this story for you!
Emily: And really, it wasn’t so much prompted from him, but rather from us.
A special thanks to Artist on Trial