Friday, March 27, 2009

Guns n poses

vee speers via lens culture

Was interested to spot a 2007 series of shots by Australian photographer Vee Speers, currently on show in several international exhibitions – including Atlanta’s Jackson Fine Art Gallery until tomorrow. In spite of the facts that a/the shots were apparently originally shown in Sydney at the Byron McMahon Gallery in 1997, and b/Speers happens to be an Australian photographer, who nevertheless lives in Paris, her name was unfamiliar to frockwriter up until this point. Called The Birthday Party, the series depicts a series of children playing dressups. I saw the initial images on the Cyana Trendland blog overnight – and was struck by the beauty of the shot (below) of the little girl in the black angel outfit and some of the other fashion-y shots. I did however find some other shots unsettling - notably the image of the little girl tarted up to look like a child prostitute in black lace bicycle shorts, with her bare chest obscured by an armful of dolls. Not to mention several images of little boys with naked chests. But that was before I found the rest of the series elsewhere online. It includes one bare-chested kid holding a semi-automatic rifle, with three pistols stuffed in his pants - all real weapons, not toys - and another half-naked boy with a mace, who looks like he’s off to a Belgian S&M paedo party.

vee speers via lens culture

vee speers via penn house productions

vee speers via cyana trendland

Of course had Bill Henson not arrogantly insisted on rubbing a full frontal naked shot of one young female subject in the face of the press - and it followed, the public - via his Roslyn Oxley show invitation last year, the exhibition would most likely have gone ahead without a peep. As indeed Speers' 2007 Byron McMahon exhibition appears to have done.

Even Roxley Oxley herself harboured concerns about the appropriateness of the shot on Henson's invitation, frockwriter hears.

Speers' earlier photographic series was called Bordello. Inspired by the Paris red light district of the 1920s and 1920s and shot inside former bordellos, it was commemorated in a 2005 book which featured a forward by Karl Lagerfeld.

Speers reportedly hails from Newcastle, but has been based in Paris since 1990 and lives near the Rue St Denis red light district.

In the unlikely scenario that Speers was ever tempted to take more childrens portraits back in her home state, it would be interesting to see if, as an artist, she would fall in between the cracks of new NSW legislation which mandates that anyone wishing to employ children under the age of 16 for modelling purposes must first seek permission from the NSW Childrens Guardian.

The bureau has also implemented a new Code of Practice that is designed to protect children from being cast in roles inappropriate to their age and experience.


Anna said...

Some great questions here Patty, here's my take on a photographer whose work I adore.

Spears' use of children in her photos is not to describe or to articulate on adults or adult concepts such as sex, but to explore certain views and concepts on childhood.

Spears exploration of 'Bordellos and Parisians' started her on a journey of exploration about how and when childhood begins to end emotionally in our society.

In 'The Birthday Party' Spears explores the vulnerability and the cruelty of childhood. This image story as a whole, and it must be treated as such rather than a photo by photo basis, tells the story of a child's 'fancy dress' party that involves the rituals of childhood bullying, exclusion and duplicity of children at play.

Spears wants the child as well as the adult in us to be confronted by how we behaved as children to each other. As a mother very protective of her children I do not find these photos border line in the least, my personal favourite photo is the girl in the sailor costume and fish net stockings.

Children dress up, they try to copy adults, they also try to copy adult behaviour in excluding and hurting, but because they are children they can't take the responsibility like an adult. Thus the sexualisation of a child can only be done by an adult, not by the child.

Yes boys are bare chested in some photos, but to exclude all photos of bare chested boys from the public would be to elude that a) it is inappropriate for boys to never go without a shirt b) that all boys without a shirt should be considered sexual by a community as a whole.

To compare Spears work to Henson is if anything unfair on nothing more than a message level. Henson's work shows children both boys and girls at or close to puberty naked. His work is about emerging sexuality, thus why it is so controversial.

Spears' work is not about sex and I believe that this is very clear to both the public and censors. As a parent I wouldn't hesitate to allow Spears to photograph my children exactly as "The Birthday Party". (To be perfectly honest I found my 7 year old daughters last school disco and the clothes worn by her peers in public to be far more confronting than these photos)

This artist cannot be held responsible for child abuse in our community anymore than a fashion designer can be held responsible for rape.

If anything I thought this artwork would upset people who don't believe children can be cruel, manipulative and duplicitous at such an early age.

Blog Archive