The Bill Henson controversy

In Personal


Last night i went to Roslyn Oxley9 gallery in Paddington for the opening of Bill Henson‘s new photography show, only to discover it had been cancelled in light of police intervention.


A moral panic has developed over his photographs of naked adolescent children. It escalated with an opinion piece by Miranda Devine in the Sydney Morning Herald and became an issue that has dominated talkback radio ever since.

It appears police charges will be brought against Bill Henson and the gallery over publishing the “indecent” images.

The contentious images have been removed by police and voluntarily withdrawn by the gallery and the show will open soon with the remaining photographs.

Follow updates on google news.

I’m not sure what to think. It’s quite clear Bill Henson is a renowned art photographer, not some shameless pornographer. I believe neither he nor the gallery intend to exploit children or that the images are indecent. Yet it’s an obviously provocative thing to do. The images are creepy. And anything that exploits or sexualises children is repellent.

Regardless, the work has succeeded in a way much of the best art does. It’s provoked an emotional reaction, got people talking and asked more questions than it answers.


  1. It’s sad that these people just do not ‘get’ art. Hearing Kevin Rudd weigh in on this whole thing and call the images “revolting” made me sick to my stomach. Dismissing Bill Henson’s work outright without a shred of anything intelligent to say makes me worry about just what sort of country we’re living in.
    The reaction to the photographs has upset me more than the photographs themselves which, yes, i agree Bill Henson’s work is creepy, but beautiful, and creepy in an intelligent thought provoking way and not just creepy for the sake of being so.

  2. I was sexually abused as a child in the 1980s. Thousands of photographs were taken and two or three super 8 movie reels. I can tell you it looked nothing like the Henson photographs.
    I think we have to accept that paedophiles potentially will find any image of a child potentially erotic. I think this is inescapable but, I also believe that for most of them the Henson images would really be way down the scale of interest. If everyone is serious about stopping these people finding something titilating in the images of children, then the only logical answer is the most extreme which is to stop people photographing children altogether, which is absurd.
    Reuben, I do not believe closing down the exhibit because someone might find the images titilating–like I say I do not think they would–really has any traction here. This controversy has brought out the worst in society, now with the gallery owner being threatened.
    Also, we as a society are in real trouble if we start equating nudity inescabably with sex. Why, because this makes every parent or family member who has ever taken a naken photograph of their child a pornographer.
    For me to come to this conclusion is difficult because of my history of abuse and suspicion about the motives of photographers. But like I said before, any image of a child is potentially stimulating to a paedophile, so drawing a line based on potential provocation is the begining of a very slippery slope indeed. This is something I think neither Hetty Johnston or Miranda Devine, who is appears started this widespread community outrage of two, thought of.
    Lastly, I have to take a swing a Hetty Johnston. I met her in the mid 1990s, partly because of being a abuse survivor. I was distictly unimpressed, I do not want to wallow in my victimhood for the rest of my life! I think we must be very careful here because underneath her cause (the prevention of child sexual abuse) that no sane person would argue against lie other more radical agendas and methods (including persecuting Henson). The problem is that because she has become the patron saint of children, people are fearful to criticize her, lest she label them as paedophile sympathisers.
    Like I said before. Coming to these conclusions is difficult, but I am decisive. I am still getting over my abuse. I found out 8 years ago a friend of mine abused children before he suicided. So there are complex issues to deal with at the outset that I ruminate over. But in the end, picking on Henson’s art is madness and if the charges stick, woebetide anyone who photographs children again.

  3. I would have given Rudd more credit to either weigh in more thoughtfully or stay out of the way of artistic discussion.
    The talk around the subject is interesting to me. Here are a few thoughts from both sides of the issue. I notice that those who support that Henson is making art do not have a need to have their opinon become the final word and those who are opposed to it just label it wrong and move on.
    Pro Henson: This work speaks to me of the pain and isolation of adolescence as one’s mind and body goes through the difficult transformation from child to adult. A fairly standard dictionary definiton of pornography is “creative activity (writing or pictures or films etc.) of no literary or artistic value other than to stimulate sexual desire”. This work clearly does not fit that defintion. Nudity is not necessarily pornography and the age of the subject does not change this simple fact.
    Anti Henson: “This new exhibition of Bill Henson is nothing short of disturbing. I feel very sad for these children and question the parents for allowing that taking for these images to be taken… very bizarre.
    I am sorry, but if a person cannot differentiate between photographing an infant and photographing a adolescent then there are real issues in the world.
    Is this Art..? Ask yourself, would you happily allow such photos to be taken of your children?”
    It creates controversy. It must be art. Personally I am mixed. The images are powerful and evocative but I don’t think anybody is being exploited. I’d have to know how he goes about getting his subjects and how he works with them but I do see how somebody could have their feathers ruffled by a few of the holocausticlike looking teens. Henson’s intent seems murky to me. Maybe his beard just creeps me out and conjures molestor connotations.

  4. It is child pornography in Great Britain and some of his work is three quarters the way up the sentencing tariff there.
    So it is only natural that airlines should be banning him and that his USA visting entitlements are a memory.
    I would also imagine that every pedophile in Australia is signing up for art classes, because they want to get it. But, in many countries it is a slam dunk child pornography issue.

  5. bill hensons work represents child like inocence like adam and eve before the fall. it would be wrong to critisize his form of art as pornographic when it interprates images of the adolecens body half formed and it looks both back to inocence of childhood towards the experiances of adult life. so for people like Rudd who have no artistic background to condem someone elses art is cencorship what ever happen to freedom of speech and the right to express yourself and when someone does they shut it down, what happened to living in a free country. all the stuff the goverment is feeding us is utter bull they are all hypocrits who need to get out and losen up, we dont condem what they do and they shouldnt do it to others.At what point is censorship justyfiable?

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