August 6th, 2011
Alarm about images of naked teenagers by acclaimed photographer Bill Henson has forced a Sydney gallery to cancel its exhibition opening. Police said they were investigating the legality of some of the photographs in the exhibition at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in inner-city Paddington. The opening of the show was cancelled amid complaints about the show’s explicit content. Printed invitations to the private viewing featured a single image from the exhibition, depicting a naked 13-year-old girl. Police said they wanted to speak to one of the models before deciding whether the show would go ahead. Gallery manager Amanda Rowell said there had been no specific threats, but the gallery had received dozens of phone calls. Some angry callers had “no concept” about the show. She added the gallery was concerned about possible damage to the large-format photographs, which each carry a price tag of $25,000. “It was spiralling out of control,” Ms Rowell said. “We have never had this controversy before.”
Henson is an internationally renowned photographer who was given an important retrospective show at the Art Gallery of NSW in 2005. He declined last night to comment on the cancellation of the show’s opening night, but yesterday expressed frustration at the controversy that sometimes attended his shows. The exhibition of 30 photographs includes landscape and architectural studies, shown in juxtaposition with the male and female nudes. Henson said the nudes were taken in his Melbourne studio. The models were about 13 years old and were not professionals. The children and their families had given permission to be photographed. Asked about community concerns over child pornography, Henson said his personal and artistic priorities were not conditioned by an alarmist media. “You can’t control the way in which individuals respond to the work,” he said. He was interested in exploring notions of intimacy and “something which is absolutely inviolate and unknowable”.
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