Woody Allen, Bill Henson and The Art Defence

In the ongoing fallout from Dylan Farrow publishing an open letter accusing her father, Woody Allen, of sexually assaulting her as a child, a pervasive theme is that members of the Hollywood elite have chosen to ignore the allegations, overlooking them in the glaring light of the lure of working with one of the most acclaimed directors of the modern era. Understandably, Ms Farrow is devastated by this, writing in her open letter "What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett? Louis CK? Alec Baldwin? What if it had been you, Emma Stone? Or you, Scarlett Johansson? You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?"

Hmm. People willing to overlook accusations of impropriety towards a child because the accused is a great artist. Where have we heard that before? Oh yes, in the controversy that surrounds the career of acclaimed Australian photographer with a penchant for pictures of naked children, Bill Henson.

Now, the circumstances of Henson and Allen are not precisely analgous. In as much as the charges of sexual assault against Mr Allen have not been proven in a court of law, they are unproven and open to speculation (although I do believe Dylan Farrow). We know exactly what Mr Henson has done - he's created a record of it himself, taking photos of naked young boys and girls on the verge of puberty. And the ensuing controversy has taken on an ideological slant - those on the right setting themselves up as the guardians of moral propriety, crying "won't somebody think of the children!" as the leftists, elites and art aficionados line up to defend Mr Henson. He's an artist. These are works of genius, nothing sleazy or sexy about them; you cretins simply wouldn't understand in your rush to condemn and spread baseless moral panics.

This may be the only time I'll say it, but I find myself falling on the Miranda Devine side of this argument here. It may be art. I will not deny that the photos are incredibly beautiful. That doesn't change that in exploiting naked children for his art, Bill Henson is wrong, very wrong. Bill Henson is exploiting naked children; that he is exploiting them artistically rather than sexually shouldn't be a defence. He asks children, who are well below an age where they can give informed consent to their medical treatment or sex or legal contracts or anything else, to strip naked for him, an adult man, and pose for pictures that will be displayed publicly and reproduced in ways that cannot understand or control.

Apparently the parents and kids themselves used as Henson's models are happy. Doesn't much matter. In the recent case of a 26 year old man marrying a 12 year old girl here in Newcastle, it was said the girl was happy about the marriage (and is devastated she's been taken from her husband). That still doesn't make it okay. We hold that a child of twelve cannot give full and aware consent to marriage or sex; so these things are illegal. If a 12 year old can't give informed consent to intercourse, how could they possibly give informed consent, with full awareness of the possible ramifications, to posing naked for public display?

There is also the fact that Henson's work has a devoted following among paedophiles. Astonishingly, this is used in Henson's defence - we have had our minds polluted to have nudity associated with sex; these photos are innocent, and by taking them Henson is helping to reclaim that innocence. How bizarre - we must let children pose naked or the paedophiles win. (And if it happens to supply some creep with legal full frontal nude photos of twelve year olds to fap over, oh well, can't win them all).

Nevertheless, Henson, as with Allen, is defended by a lot of people who should know better. Whether glorifying the films of a man accused of assaulting his child or the photos of a man who puts naked children on public display, it speaks to the extent to which children are devalued in a society which claims to put them first; children's needs and right to safety come secondary to "art", the desires of the adults who use them for that art come first.


  1. I'm not a fan of Henson's work but I will defend him.

    My reason's are both technological and theoretical.

    1. If he was a painter. Nobody, and I mean nobody would be accusing him of anything. Simply because he is a photographer, is the reason why he is attacked. The content has nothing to do with it.

    2. Since time began there has always been depictions of child nudity and nudity in general and it's generally only a recent phenomenon to be outraged by it.

    What about the Manneken Pis in Brussels?

    1. Why is it exploitation?

      Oxford lists it as " the action or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work:"

      Now who decides it's exploitation? The law is clearly on Henson's side.

      Is it the vocal minority who scream "think of the children" whenever somebody has a bad luck story on "A Current Affair"?

      Is it the hairy armpit brigade who hate everything that males stand for?

      OR what about the opinions of the parents of the models? Do they get a say in how THEY raise their OWN children?

      Alas I'm a male photographer who's opinion doesn't count. :P

    2. The "hairy armpit brigade", huh? It's okay; I'll type slower.
      Henson does treat his models unfairly. He is an adult in a position of trust when he works with children, and power in his role as an acclaimed photographer, children who cannot give their informed consent to what he is doing, as as I pointed out, if they can't give informed consent to anything else at this stage in life, how can they give their consent to posing nude. As for parents getting a say in how they raise their children - rubbish. "Allowing their child to pose naked" is not a parental right, any more than arranging marriage or FGM. Anyway, what if the parents are determined their child will pose naked - but the child refuses? Who prevails? How can the child give or withhold consent anyway? This is going in circles.

      And I really don't care what the law says here. The law can't account for anything. You don't need a law to tell you that calling your child a fat pig, for example, is a bad idea; it might be legal but it's wrong. Ditto Henson. The law may be on his side but that doesn't change that he's a sleazy exploitative creep, and to ignore that fact is to add your silent consent to the abuse and exploitation of children.

  2. I completely disagree.

    I call it faux rage due to it being photography and not a painting or other art work. Many great artists have used children in the production of their works. But it only ever appears to be the photographic artists who are on the receiving end of this abuse. I'll call it abuse because it's something that I have been subjected to simply because I have a camera.

    Van Gogh, Renoir, Manet, Monet, Velázquez, Titian and Picasso. They have all done nudes. They have all used children. But we never ever here anything defamatory. .

    Simple fact is. It's been part of Western culture and to a lesser extent Japanese culture for centuries. But as soon as a paintbrush is replaced by a camera the game changes.

    I'd be more concerned with the situation of a child working for Disney until they are too old, then a child modelling for an artist. Now that is exploitation.

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