When Pornography is Pornography and Not Fine Art
Most of you will be aware of the controversy surrounding the Nan Goldin photograph ‘Klara and Edda Belly-Dancing’ which is owned by Elton John and was recently removed from an exhibition by police after complaints were made regarding the sexual nature of the photograph which features two young girls one of whom is sitting down with her legs wide apart. After much deliberation Britain’s Crown Prosecution decided that the photograph was not indecent and that there would be no charges which seems to be a result of an investigation into the same photo in 2001 by the CPS which also found the photograph to be not indecent. I find it rather unbelievable that this particular photo could be considered not indecent considering that the definition of indecency is to “offend against generally accepted standards of propriety (conformity to established standards of good or proper behavior or manners) or good taste” which is exactly what this photo does.
Regardless of whether it was produced for the purposes of fine art or not, the reason that images containing naked pictures of children are illegal remains the same regardless of the context of the image. The fact is that just because the photo was produced as fine art doesn’t mean that it won’t be used for more sinister purposes and as such it should not be made available to the general public. I am well aware that Nan Goldin had a rather traumatic childhood but that doesn’t automatically give her the right to put other children in potentially compromising and dangerous situations. The children in the photo would not have any awareness of their inclusion in the photo or understanding of the associated issues and controversy and are therefore not able to determine whether or not they wanted to be in the photo. Because the children are not able to make a rational and informed decision regarding their inclusion in a photo that the artist had to have known would be controversial, this image should never have been made accessible to the public
I am all for artistic freedom but there has to be a point where common sense and morality come into play. Nan Goldin’s photographs benefit nobody else other than herself so if she was really producing this work for the purposes of self improvement and self expression then she would not be selling the photographs or using the controversy to further her career.
The controversy and associated media attention may have increased the value Nan Goldin’s work but at what price. At the end of the day the focus should really be on the moral and ethical issues not the artistic and legal aspects.
**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications.