In the 2010's, it is almost difficult to imagine any mainstream media defending such images, at least without fretting over whether the images might perhaps emanate from or provoke an erotic thought. As sociologist Dr. Tiffany Jenkins stated in an article on scotsman.com, entitled "Vile mindset pollutes depictions of innocence," in which she criticises the Tate Gallery's decision to remove Mr. Ovenden's artworks from its website and from public access, people now perceive all images of nude minors "through abuser-tinted glasses.... No picture of a young child is untainted by this mindset."1
As it happens, and we will return to this theme is future posts, Graham Ovenden's art is not some kind of celebration of erotic attraction to young girls. Nor is it, as prosecutor Ramsay Quaife maintained, "a ruse" for abusing girls.2 (This particular libel was disproved by the dismissals and acquittals on all the manufactured charges that Mr. Ovenden blindfolded and dressed up his models in order to molest and photograph them.) Mr. Ovenden's art depicting young girls is multifaceted. The paintings, drawings and graphic works of fictional subjects may engage the viewer on the themes of innocence and purity, sentimentality, corruption, defilement and danger, may play on archetypes like the angel-demon or the "seductress," or may represent the subjects as phenomena of other realms, supernatural or supra-natural phenomena existing outside of mere human corporeal existence. With respect to his photographs of young girls, however, the elements of danger and defilement are completely absent. This is because, first and foremost, Mr. Ovenden's photographs are a faithful dialogue with his subjects. For evidence of that fact, one should look no further than the clear-eyed statements made by Mr. Ovenden's subjects when they were young adults, not terribly far removed from their experiences of being photographed.
Previous posts have contained some of those statements, but nothing so public as the interview of Emily Ovenden and Maud Hewes from the documentary, "For the Sake of the Children." The interview is extraordinary for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that Ms. Hewes, age 23 at the time of the interview, no longer views the photographs as an expression of self and a source of pride. (The film also displayed numerous photographs by Mr. Ovenden depicting nude children, including those of his daughter and Ms. Hewes.) Going by her trial testimony, it is difficult to know precisely how Ms. Hewes now views the photographs. However, it is apparent that she wishes they never happened. This emotional revisionism could stem from any number of causes, but one may speculate that it was largely made possible by the "vile mindset."
from For the Sake of the Children.
Produced by Annie Dodds.
Directed by Bob Bentley.
Written and presented by Nicky Akehurst.
UK: October Films and Channel Four, 1997.
(Asterisks represent material intercut during the interview.)
Emily Ovenden: We've known each other since the beginning; we had a brilliant time!
Maud Hewes: Yeah! Me too.
Emily: It's like the Garden of Eden down there [at Barley Splatt]. It's beautiful!
Maud: Yeah, there's everything -- it's freedom -- there's woods and rivers…
Emily: We were swimming in the river all the time, we were camping, we made camps and rope things…
Maud: …And quite often we would ask...
Emily: …we WANTED to be photographed.
Maud: …to be photographed.
Emily: It would be like, Dad! Dad! Look at the outfits we've got…
Maud: …Look what we've done!
Emily: …Will you take pictures of us?
Maud: …We can do this story for you!
Emily: And really, it wasn't so much prompted from him, but rather from us.
Emily: I think the photographs Dad has taken are so far from pornography, they're just so far from it, that it never would have crossed our minds that that would have been taken like that, you know?
Maud: I'm not saying we ran about naked all the time or anything, but we weren't ashamed, we weren't taught to be ashamed about [it]…
Emily: I think it's very dangerous for people to ignore the fact that young girls do have a sexuality. I think it's a very important part of growing up and being a woman. And to hide your body when you're a child, and to make it out that it's something dirty is, I think, very dangerous.
Maud: And wrong.
Maud: I'm not ashamed of any of my photographs: I'm proud. Many of my photographs are published -- they hang in collections -- they're nothing to be ashamed of at all.
Maud: When [the police] interviewed me and they looked at my photographs and they were sort of pointing at them and they were condemning -- they were "condemned," they were, like, "pornographic," and "Didn't I realise that these people had used me," and "I was just a child," and "I didn't know," and "how could I possibly know that's how it happened?" Basically [they said] I had been brainwashed, you know? But he was actually looking at images of myself when he was saying that: "Do you not think this is pornography? Look at this and this and this: is it not pornography?" And it's a picture of ME!
Maud: The other thing that they did was they took the photographs and they chopped them up -- they highlighted bits of them, or they showed a little bit of the photograph. It was completely out of context. And they'd be sort of going, "Oh… yeah…" And it WAS pornographic like that, in a sense.
1Jenkins, Tiffany, "Vile mindset pollutes depictions of innocence." scotsman.com, 09 April 2013; http://www.scotsman.com/news/arts/comment-vile-mindset-pollutes-depictions-of-innocence-1-2883797
2"Artist Graham Ovenden's indecency case jury retires," BBC News, 26 March 2013; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cornwall-21943329
Graham Ovenden will be sentenced on 04 June 2013.