Noted Australian photographer Bill Henson has gone into hiding after police seized photographs of naked boys and girls, aged 12 and 13, from an exhibition at Sydney.
Violent threats have been left on the answering machine of the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, in Paddington in Sydney's eastern suburbs, which was to exhibit the pictures.
On the 22 May 2008, the opening night of Bill Henson's 2007-2008 exhibition was cancelled after Hetty Johnston, a child protection campaigner, lodged a complaint about the exhibition with the New South Wales police.
It was later announced that a number of the images in an exhibition of his work set to go on display had been seized by police, local area commander Alan Sicard, with the intention of charging him with "publishing an indecent article, under the Crimes Act." The seized images were also removed from the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery website, where the remainder of the series can now be viewed online. The website has since crashed.
Henson presents "adolescents in their states of despair, intoxication and immature ribaldry," it has been claimed. He has said that these "moments of transition and metamorphoses are important in everyone's lives."
Such photographs could give people a taste for pedophilia, a clinical psychologist has warned.
"People who would never cross the line in the past, they would never have sought out photos of naked children are now doing it because it's so accessible," psychologist Jo Lamble told the Seven Network today.
"They might look at something like that and think: 'Oh, OK, well that's art, so that's OK, it's tasteful', but it can give them the taste for it."
Lamble says that although she believes Henson is not a pedophile, his photographs still send the wrong message about the sexualisation of children.
"We've got mixed messages going around. We are trying to tell society that it is wrong to sexualise our young people, we are up in arms about push-up bras and make-up and all this clothing for young people, but then we say it's OK to hang photos in a gallery and call it art.
"Even if they are beautiful, even if the mood and lighting and the composition is beautiful and it's a very talented artist, it's still giving the wrong messages because you don't know who's viewing them," she says.
The appearance of the photographs on the internet was the most concerning aspect of the exhibition, Lamble said.
Specialist child exploitation detectives have referred the website to the nation's media watchdog, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which has begun its own investigation.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd too weighed into the debate, saying he thought the pictures were "revolting".
"Kids deserve to have the innocence of their childhood protected. I have a very deep view of this. For God's sake, let's just allow kids to be kids.
"Whatever the artistic view of the merits of that sort of stuff - frankly I don't think there are any - just allow kids to be kids," he told the Nine Network.
But fellow artists and administrators expressed outrage that Henson faced a possible obscenity prosecution over his art.
Renowned photographer Joyce Evans who has known Henson since the 1970s said that he was a man of impeccable integrity.
"This is just crazy,'' she said.
"I don't know what the heck the world is coming to. Bill Henson is one of Australia's greatest artists.
"It's just ridiculous. Are they going to arrest Michelangelo and Da Vinci, too, because they depicted the nude in all its ages?''
Leading publisher Michael Heyward of Text Media said that he had known Henson for more than 30 years and he was appalled at the treatment of him.
"He is one of Australia's greatest living artists without question,'' Heyward said.
Heyward attacked politicians for condemning Henson's work without seeing it.
"The response of our senior political leaders has been really disappointing,'' he said. ``The PM, and the Leader of Opposition, the Premier of New South Wales and the Leader of the Opposition in NSW have all condemned this work without having seen it.
"I think that speaks volumes.
"For the Prime Minister to say that the work had no artistic merit without seeing it is deplorable.''
Judy Annear, senior photography curator at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, said Henson's images were beautiful.
"They're very formal, they're very classical,'' she said.
Art market analyst Michael Reid said the naked body had been the subject of art for thousands of years and Henson's exhibition was not pornographic.
"He's done a huge body of work that goes across a whole range of areas - rural landscapes, a famous Paris opera series - and these adolescent Twilight Zone photographs for about 15 years,'' Reid said.
NSW Law Society Hugh Macon president says the case against Henson could be very hard to prove.
"The Crimes Act requires two things: an intention and an act,'' he said.
"The act is usually fairly easily established, but if the intention is to produce a work of art and solely to produce a work of art, then I cannot see how a crime has been committed.''
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