May 23, 2008 / 2:06 AM / 9 years ago

Australian police shut naked child photo exhibit

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A photographic exhibition in Sydney of naked 12 and 13-year-old children, closed by police only hours before its opening night, has sparked a heated debate over whether adolescent nudity is art or pornography.

<p>Australian policemen load photographs onto a police truck after removing them from a gallery in Sydney May 23, 2008. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz</p>

Police on Thursday night closed the exhibition by Australian photographer Bill Henson which features photographs of naked children, saying they were investigating its legality.

The show includes large photographic prints of topless girls.

“I think they’re revolting. Kids deserve to have the innocence of their childhood protected,” Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told local television on Friday.

“I have a very deep view of this. For God sake let’s just allow kids to be kids, whatever the artistic view or the merits of that sort of stuff. Frankly I don’t think there are any.”

Child protection advocate Hetty Johnston said the photographer and exhibitor should both be prosecuted.

“You can call it anything you want, but at the end of the day, these are images of naked adolescents,” Johnston said.

“We all have a responsibility to look after children. Putting naked photos up there on public display in a gallery ... and even on the internet is just totally betraying our duty of care to children,” Johnston said.

<p>Policemen load photographs onto a police truck after removing them from a gallery in Sydney May 23, 2008. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz</p>

In media interviews ahead of the exhibition, Henson said he left interpretation of the images to audiences.

“You can’t control the way individuals respond to the work,” he said, saying he photographed adolescents because they reflected a humanity and vulnerability.

Artists and gallery patrons, some of whom were turned away from the gallery on Thursday night, said the shutdown of the photographic exhibition was censorship of art.

Art market analyst Michael Reid said the images had not been “sexualized” and were not pornographic, adding Henson frequently used young adolescent models as part of his range of work.

“I think the sexualization of children is an extremely important (issue). The naked body, whatever age, has been a subject for thousands of years,” Reid told local radio.

“The question is was there consent, which I can’t answer, and has the image been sexualized? In my opinion, it wasn‘t.”

Senior curator of photography at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which has exhibited Henson’s work, defended his images.

“I think it is unfortunate if people confuse it with pornography. I think the question then goes back to these people, these rabble rousers, what do they think is pornographic about this work?,” said Judy Annear.

Editing by Jerry Norton

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