It’s a clichè: if you want to see pictures of naked women (or children) just look in the pages of National Geographic. I have argued that the taboo over nudity is irrational and arbitrary. It is allowed in some circumstances, but not in others. These rules can be confusing.

There is a dark side to many of these rules – racism. The most taboo image is that of a naked, middle-class white girl. The greatest fury is always directed at any artist or photographer who breaks this specific taboo. Think about it. All the public controversies have been about photos of white girls – without exception.

Meanwhile images of naked tribal children are abundant and freely available. This is because they are the other: primitive, savage, uncivilized. Needless to say this is hypocritical, outrageously so. But again, we are talking about something deeply irrational, and in my view, sinister.

I have published many such photos and images in my discussion of anthropological variation, but very few of Aboriginal Australians. The nudity of the first Australians has always been a source of embarrassment to white Australia. And given that the last pre-contact band was encountered in the early 1960’s, there is an abundance of photographic material. The images below are from the Victorian and National library archives – and just for contrast, an image from a German naturist magazine of the 30’s. What is the difference, other than one is of civilized, white girls?

And to conclude I thought I would add an image from a new Australian program which shows how we now lie about our Aboriginal past. This shot is from the ABC’s My Place program. The ABC admits that in reality the children would be naked but that they had to invent costumes because it was a children’s program. However they are wrong. They simply would not be allowed to depict the children as they were even if the program was for adults. They are not allowed to depict naked children period, even if it is historically accurate. Thus we arrive at legally imposed historical revisionism, all to appease Judeo-Christian sensitivities.

My Place, ABC TV

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One Response to The Naked Child in Art: Ethnographic Photography

  1. Ron says:

    The Judeo-Christian stand on this can be even more irrational than this. In the U.S., it was not uncommon (to justify slavery) to regard dark-skinned people as animals. This was done in a negative sense, as fundamentalist Christians still resist the notion that we are animals at all, obvious similarities notwithstanding. A similar attitude with our aboriginals (Native Americans) depicts them as “noble savages” and equated nudity with inferiority. Studio galleries today can still be found that specialize in “wildlife” art which include Native Americans, but I have never heard of a gallery that mixed so-called “anthropological” nudes with “naturist” nudes in the same exhibit. We have inherited this bias from of culture of Whites who have interpreted the Bible as giving “us” stewardship of the earth. Good job so far, eh?! BTW, photographic postcards of nude Australian Aboriginals are now collectors items!

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