I wasn’t sure I’d ever mention the photography of David Hamilton, simply because I don’t like it, never have. I’m not offended by the nudity. I just find it stylistically and thematically tacky – a rather overly-romantic, male-centered erotic fantasy of adolescent girlhood. Personally, I’ve never met any adolescent girl who behaves the way Hamilton chooses to depict them. I’m much more of realist.
I mention him primarily because Eva Ionesco said that her mother’s work went further than Hamilton – and because he provides a good example of how standards, at least in anglophone countries, have changed.
Hamilton used to be very popular in Australia. For years most general bookshops stocked a Hamilton in their photography section (which usually only cater to a broad and uncritical market and rarely carry any substantive titles). It was pure coffee table material. The last time I saw a Hamilton was in the bargain bins in a book sale (and no matter how cheap, I wasn’t the least bit tempted).
But Hamilton’s work seems to have disappeared, despite his latest title Erotic Tales being published in 2006 – well, disappeared from anglophone markets, because Erotic Tales was published in French and German.
There’s good reason. Some people in anglophone countries now regard his work to be child porn. In 2010 David Neal was convicted of the possession of category 1 child pornography material because he owned a Hamilton book. Despite the fact that these books were once widely available and had never been previously classified as child porn; and despite the fact they were still available online from Amazon UK.
Fortunately for Neal, the conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal. The judge, Lord Justice Richards said (The Telegraph):
It is, however, very unfair for a person in the position of Mr Neal to be prosecuted for possession of the photographs in these books in these circumstances. If the Crown Prosecution Service wishes to test whether the pictures in the books are indecent, the right way to deal with the matter is by way of prosecuting the publisher or retailer – not the individual purchaser.
Of course, the reason the prosecutors might not have gone for the publisher or retailer is that they would have had more resources to fight such an absurd decision.
What’s going on? Well, the moral panic has created a witch hunt and some prosecutors, police and special interest groups are zealously intent on ridding the community of any image they imagine is child pornography. And the reason they are able to imagine it is child pornography is because there is no clear, accepted definition of child pornography.
Now, I have no problem in creating a category called child pornography and prosecuting anyone who produces it, but I, no doubt, would define child pornography somewhat differently to a moral conservative. Again, this is where we face a matter of opinion.
The problem also arises because conservative forces are trying to reset precedent. There are two types of precedent that apply in this argument: artistic and legal. I have posted many examples of the naked child in art to show that it is a well established, if minor, tradition. I have not mentioned the many cases that have already gone to court and which set the legal precedent.
As much as the moral conservatives may dislike it, many of the cases that have gone to trial (but not all) have been found in the artist’s favour – in other words, NOT child porn.
I think the thing that shocks me the most about this is that there are so many people who seem to be ignorant of artistic and legal precedent. It’s as if there are two definitions of child porn: the opinion of the uninformed (which inexcusably includes some professionals) and the opinion of the court. (Note: this is part of a populist rejection of elitist authority in general – judges are apparently out of touch. What? Out of touch with uninformed public opinion?)
I will mention one case briefly, and that is the case brought against British artist Graham Ovenden in the US for publishing a book, States of Grace, allegedly containing child pornography (available at Amazon). The case was dismissed after the subject of the offending photo testified that:
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 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 offence.
(Once again, it is important to listen to the voices of the models – and many are offended by those who pretend to be offended on their behalf)
However, this did not stop Scotland Yard from engaging in a witch hunt and in 2009 Ovenden was again charged with producing child pornography, this time in England. In 2010 the case was dismissed after a five minute hearing because key police witnesses failed to appear (The Telegraph). The prosecution then dropped the case. Why? Because they knew it would fail?
So we arrive at a strange place. Zealous police, prosecutors and child advocacy groups whipping up a moral panic, only to have the cases fall apart in court. You would think it would end there. But no. Now they are attempting to change the law.
So be careful. One day that book you bought a decade or two ago might retrospectively be deemed obscene. Now, would that be fair?