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Adolescent nudity in portraiture [cross-culturally?]

K. Townsend , May 01, 2001; 01:30 a.m.

I realize that there is an extensive posting on the topic of 'age of consent'. (Consent is obviously a term related to sexual activity for most, ergo the legal connections, I think, though a grievous notion to be sure. I see more obscenity in people with clothes on most days.) I believe my inquiry is of a different nature. [1]

I reside and work in France, where I have the freedom to disagree with my North American friends who live in constant fear that men everywhere carry an inate rape instinct. [I admit I'm naive as a male, but do mothers really try to instill this in their daughters?] Since moving to France (from Canada) a little over a year ago, I've become increasingly interested in the Naturist/Nudist community, as well as adolescence in general.

I initially took up photography as a means to express to the people I care about, known or unknown, the struggle to believe that we always have a potential towards 'beauty', and the always present chance of 'becoming', however monstrous we feel in the present state of 'being'. Having struggled in the past with clinical depression and two suicide attempts that prompted my relocation to France, I'm drawn to adolescence as well as nudity as a medium towards reaching certain people.

Adolescence for me (now 24 years old) represents the awkwardness of something in between, with half-formed bodies, and all the struggles and battles that often go with those moments. Nudity, at any age, is the medium that best comes to mind to show qualities like 'brokenness', 'innocence', 'fragility', 'loss', etc. (Far from limited to the black end of the spectrum, though, I also want to offer 'hope' and 'beauty' as well.)

I have the general freedom to photograph nude adolescents in France, so long as I treat it very wisely. (Inform the local police precent of your intentions so they know you, maintain the integrity of a trusted, nuetral and opposite gender person in the room, etc.) Where I have so many valued friendships in Canada, as well, though, and I still care for North Americans as a whole, where suicide is still a leading cause of death for college age people, etc., what direction can you offer me on showing my future work, since -- and this is sure to get the dreaded "L'Art pour L'Art" crowds foaming -- I took up photography because I wanted to make a small difference as best I could in lives that were hurting and troubled, knowing firsthand there is still hope in tommorow. The Web is an option, of course, but what should one make of things like physical prints? Perhaps because of my age and beard, I often get checked at customs as well, though I believe I'm a safe looking man. (I was deathly afraid on my last trip to Canada when they searched my bags, and I had a book by Jock Sturges, though thankfully they never opened the cover.)

It's those people that are most important to me, and they remain much of the reason I'm trying to grow in photography and writing, along with the personal 'cathartic' moments as well. France, my new very beloved home is one matter, but what can I make of the sometimes sadenningly absurd (but not entirely disdained by me either) laws and requirements of Canada and America?

Any thoughts and help would be appreciated. I'm still very new to photography and amateurish [2 years since I picked it up halphazardly?], and nudes and studio work are quite new to me, butany advice people can give me would be welcome on this kind of sensitive area with teens, families, etc. I'm also interested in doing group shots of nudist families for different reasons related to North America, so the same problems likely apply. I'm not always a good people person, being quite quiet, and often nervous about my own rough-edged skill, but I do have a heart, and I think when people hear me, it manages still to come through.

Kevin. http://ktownsend.free.fr

[1] Does anyone else feel consistently oblidged to begin their e- mails as such with the editorial policy here? ;o) I hate to plead, but, to the editors, the topic I think deserves discussion, and it's an issue I've hit brick walls on in many ways. Sorry, as well, for the length.


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Kah Heng Tan , May 01, 2001; 02:43 a.m.

Europeans, particularly the French and Italians, have a generally more liberal view on things regarding sex and nudity. The general American public are generally a lot more peevish. This is evident even from their mass media.

BTW, your ability to express your vision belies your experience. Extremely good pictures for a '2 year old'.

Amy Powers , May 01, 2001; 03:15 a.m.


I am sympathetic to your goals, but I don't quite know what you are asking. You already know the cultural climate in the US for what you're talking about - arctic. Or maybe hellish.
You've lived in Canada and so I would think that you're acquainted with the laws there. Is it that you are asking other Europeans for input?
I agree that your images are quite fine, and I hope you go on to bigger and better things. But if you're asking about publishing/gallery issues, I would suggest to you that you first make the art, and then figure out where it can and cannot be shown. A good agent/book editor will also know about this, when the time comes. And although I've gotten some good suggestions off of Photo.net for a variety of things, I would not base pivotal art/career decisions on anything that I read here, all by itself.
I don't mean at all to say that you should not talk/post about whats on your mind, far from it. But I'm a bit confused about whether you are asking for practical career advice, or talking about the difficulty of fullfilling an artistic vision in a censorious world. I can't offer too much to the former, but you have my support in the latter.

K. Townsend , May 01, 2001; 03:45 a.m.

My apologies on my lack of clarity. No doubt due to the length, etc. I'm fairly well read on the Canadian, as well as French side of things legally. (It's not illegal to photograph nude teens in Canada, America or France. The frightening problem is it not being interpretted as 'obscenity'. But, the courts in Canada have actually ruled in favour of even the possesion of child pornography a year or two back in a rather complicated case prompted a much needed review of relevant laws. America is much harder climate legally, I'd guess from afar.)

What I hoped for was 'wisdom' people can offer on presenting that kind of work when sharing it is the thing most important to me. (I don't necessarily mean in publishing. I'm a million years away from that. Een a website is enough if it helps people.) When N.Americans are still important to me, do you think there's anything I can do to make my work more accessible, visually or even emotionally, since I know there was a point for me where I thought Sally Mann 'gross', or Mapplethorpes nudes, etc. (Hmm. I'm not being any more helpful now am I? No wonder I have such a hard time getting posts approved. ;o)

-- Kevin.

Peter Hughes , May 01, 2001; 04:09 a.m.

I'm not sure what you're asking. However, after spending some time on your site I can offer the following suggestion: Try Prozac for six months then ask again. I'm not being flippant hereĀ—I'm really quite serious. Your dark fulminations will quiet down and you will become a lot more productive. Either that or you will give up art entirely. In any case, I think you are preposterously absorbed in your own pain, which you project outwards and which completely molds your view of reality.


Chris Waller , May 01, 2001; 04:47 a.m.

You raise an interesting question. America, like Britain, has a problem with sexuality, particularly adolescent sexuality. It is no surprise that such as Jock Sturges, David Hamilton et al work in France. There were two other photographers (I don't remember their names) who left Britain to work in continental Europe to escape what amounted to intellectual persecution. Despite Britain's hysteria about adolescent sexuality and its depiction, it has the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Europe and the trafficking in child pornography and abuse of children is rife.

The French have said that the British 'think they only exist from the neck up' - they (the British) don't like to admit that they have bodies. The French have a more deeply entrenched intellectual culture and are realistic about the human condition at least as it applies to sexuality.

Clarence John Laughlin said that 'there is nothing that is not proper to photography', a point with which I agree if one understands it in the spirit it is intended.

I recently watched a documentary about the porn industry in Los Angeles and was appalled; it seemed to be populated by people who were borderline psychopathic - but it is permitted. Why? Well, it makes billions of dollars - so that's OK isn't it?

Your question warrants a lengthier response, but I hope I've made my point.

K. Townsend , May 01, 2001; 05:09 a.m.


I think you're comments betray a bias I think is much of what prompted me first to move to Europe. Foremost, that you're first response is drugs, and not the rocgnition that North American lifestyles are often the cause of depression. Drugs can be necessary (and they were in my case), but they aren't a first, and think not even a second choice. They should be down a list that begins elsewhere. I have in fact tried antidepressants. I can say with a fairly trustworthy memory that I haven't struggled with depression for well over a year in that respect, and I essentially consider the wound 'mended' or healed. My concern now is with the millions of people comments like that alienate by saying 'buck up and move on' or something similar. The best part of what I want to offer is the hope that life can get better. (The German's have a figure of speech that 'the morning begins in the middle of the night.') I'm saddened that I've apparently missed the mark that much that it doesn't come through my goal is hope, and not an undue, unflinching preponderance of angst. Either way, I guess it gives me impetus towards further evaluation of the balance between empathizing with peoples very real pain, and the offer of hope (in ways other than psychopharmacology) towards a better tommorow (or the day after that.)

with thanks either way,

Ahti Heinla , May 01, 2001; 08:05 a.m.

What a great community

What a great sympathetic, understanding, and honest community we are here on photo.net. I hope it doesn't deter Kevin from continuing his work or posting here.

Strangely, I guess the comments may have an answer for you: you cannot make other people see something unless they want to see it themselves. You can just exhibit your work (in some way that keeps you legally protected) to people who already wish to understand.

By the way, your messages still are not very clear. Most people nowadays aren't willing to read a post twice in order to extract the point and perpahs a question if there is any. However, that observation certainly doesn't make me suggest American fad drugs or post demeaning responses. It is much worse to be lazy and intolerant than being unclear in the postings.

K. Townsend , May 01, 2001; 08:21 a.m.

Steve, et al.:

What's up with these posts? Did I ask for a psychoanalyst, and is the post on psychopharmacology or how to best present photos with nudity involving adolescent people? If you have some beef with my personality, that's all quite fine and well. I make no pretense of catering to all, or even most, though I'm generally quite glad with the general shape of what I am. Please stick to the topic at hand, though, and if you feel like arguing out pharmacology, stick to email. It's by no means a topic I haven't researched, or put enough thought into myself (or the homogeneaty [sp? ]of a culture that demands emotional sameness on a steady Prozac, Ritalin regimen ;o). If you think the expression of negative emotions is invalid, that's fine -- I dont much care for Ansel Adams myself, heresy of heresies indeed.

A revision: How to present a mature topic to an audience that doesn't seem to exhibit an intelectual and emotional view towards permitting a diversity of views, personalities and means of expression, perhaps? This must be where I off and ponder my worthlessness, though, rather than the series of photos mother's and daughter's I've been working on of late, right? Might not fit into the stereotype, eh?

Sheesh. Sorry to the more thoughtfully (and relevantly) minded readers for these comments. In the future I'll limit replies to e-mail.

-- Kevin.

Moderator: If possible, perhaps you can remove the link to my website on the lead-in comment? I just added it without thinking, and it's obviously more of a distraction than it is a boon. Thanx.

Emerson Valley , May 01, 2001; 09:19 a.m.

My input as a Canadian is this. I hope you like France. I find photography of nude adolescents exploitive and completely un-neccessary. I am offended by those who call this art.

Just recently a childhood friend of mine was charged with the possession and distribution of child pornography. His excuse, he was abused as a child. Is that your issue?

I will repeat my stand. I find photography of nude adolescents exploitive and completely un-neccessary. I am offended by those who call this art.

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