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Censorship-Jock Sturges comes to Photo.net

Darrell M , May 07, 2006; 10:06 p.m.

Most books on the subject of recent photographic history will mention Jock Sturges. Controversial yet highly exhibited and published (you will find 8 of his books listed on Amazon.com) he recently joined PN. An opportunity for us all to share the knowledge and expertise of an internationally renowned artist? Not really. He lasted less than a month before being asked to remove his images.

The thread beneath his now missing portfolio makes fascinating reading. Whilst appreciating the difficult position Sturges's membership creates for the administrators I understand that in the USA he has Congressional clearance to exhibit his works in public and private galleries and so I am left wondering if a mechanism cannot be created to allow him to show his works on PN. It seems a spectactular own goal to lose the opportunity. A site called photo.net on which an internationally famous photographer is not allowed to exhibit? It's as if a pulitzer prize winner was turned away from a local library book club.

This absurdity presents an opportunity to examine the wider issues of censorship on PN and to get a full understanding of just what is and is not permissable.



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Will King , May 07, 2006; 10:31 p.m.

To be quite honest I am not familar with Jock Sturges or his work. I did read Brian's email to Jock asking him to either remove the images in question or simply state that the nude models were above the age of 18. I don't see how that is an unreasonable request. Since photo . net is based in the U.S. it must adbide by U.S. law. If you have seen the news lately here in the U.S., you would know that child porn is a major issue that authorities are really cracking down on. I'm not saying that simply displaying nude images of a under age person is child porn, however, I'm sure some people do, including law makers and law enforcement. Now if a person wants to take nude photos of someone under age with the parent's permission, that's their prerogative. Once those images become public, it changes everything. Brian has a responsibility to this site and to the laws of the U.S.. I'm sure having photos from a well known photographer displayed on this site is not worth the risk of a prison sentence.

Keith T. , May 07, 2006; 10:44 p.m.

Apparently the esteemed Mr. Sturges forgot to read the website's terms of use before he posted photos "In the case of images involving nudity, all the models must be over the age of eighteen at the time of the photo, including any individuals in the images who might not be nude themselves."

As to the legality of nude photos, I am no lawyer but I would not want to gamble on any differences between federal law and the fairly strict state laws of Massachusetts where Photo.net is located. http://www.mass.gov/legis/laws/mgl/272-29a.htm

As a business enterprise the owners of Photo.net have a right to decide what they wish to publish. There is no issue of censorship or protected free speech.

Bob Atkins , May 07, 2006; 11:00 p.m.

Speaking only for myself, I'd assume that photo.net does not wish to take on 1st ammendment crusades and does not want to set itself up as a target.

The rules concening nudity here are very clear. No models under 18.

I don't think any of Surges' work that I've seen (i.e. that published in books which are available in the US) is pornographic even if some of his subjects are under the age of 18. However this is the USA and you'd have to be brain damaged, have a pressing personal interest or have a very large amount of money for legal fees if you wanted to test this in court. Photo.net would not seem to qualify on any of those three grounds.

Jock Sturges ended up fighting federal charges for 4 years. He's shown that he's not averse to taking and pubishing images which make him the target of federal authorities. Photo.net would be crazy to get dragged into such issues.

Chris Combs , May 07, 2006; 11:02 p.m.

Interesting episode. Thanks for posting it.

Keith T. , May 07, 2006; 11:10 p.m.

I found many internet articles about Barnes & Noble bookstores being indicted in several states including Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia for selling one of Jock Sturges books. That may have been in 1988.

Barnes and Noble is a big company with more high priced lawyers than OJ Simpson. Reasonable doubt is expensive and most of use would either be bankrupt, in jail, or both.

Will King , May 07, 2006; 11:12 p.m.

Lannie Kelly said it best: "Freedom of expression belongs to the person who exercises it, but transferring the liabilities to others is not really all that thoughtful or courageous."

Darrell M , May 07, 2006; 11:13 p.m.

Well I'm no lawyer either but this man's work is widely available in the public domain. As I say, there are several books available from Amazon-put out there by highly reputable publishing companies. I am not in the US so know nothing about the current climate regarding child pornography but, as far as I am aware, no one is suggesting Sturges work IS pornographic or illegal. Has anyone suggested the showing of his works on Photo.net would in any way be illegal? My understanding is that Sturges, along with Sally Mann and various other photographers who realise their works court certain dangers, have obtained legal clearances before displaying them.

Will King , May 07, 2006; 11:26 p.m.

"as far as I am aware, no one is suggesting Sturges work IS pornographic or illegal."

I would beg to differ. I will not make a judgement considering I have never seen his work, however, if you simply google his name, more often than not, you will read about his controversial photos regarded as child porn. One article even mentions a FBI investigation. "Not surprisingly, Sturges has faced legal threats throughout his career. In April 1990, FBI agents raided his studio, confiscated his equipment and work, and charged him with child pornography." http://www.dazereader.com/jocksturges.htm

Brian Mottershead , May 07, 2006; 11:27 p.m.

On Friday, I asked Jock to remove the images in his portfolio that involved nude models under the age of eighteen. These are not allowed under the Terms of Use of the site. Jock said in an email to me that he understood the need of the site for its rules, but that he didn't wish to "censor himself". Accordingly, he has decided to remove all images in his portfolio except one. I respect his decision and I regret that photo.net cannot host his portfolio.

Jock Sturges is a photographer of considerable reputation. His images are featured in many books, as well as museum and gallery collections. Through his books and exhibitions, Jock has been able to remind some people that nude images of children must not automatically be classified as pornography. In the United States, that is a very difficult thing to do. I think he has done so with delicacy and restraint, although not without some considerable cost to himself.

But on a public web site where anyone can upload images without prior review, there are too many who would claim to be pulling up next to Jock Sturges, but who would actually be charging past Jock, past any boundary of decency, and into the territory of child pornography. The site cannot permit that to happen, or to create even a hint of allowing it or condoning it. If all the portfolios on photo.net were curated onto the site, I might risk it (I'm not sure), but not when anyone can upload anything and we have to find it in order to remove it. I shudder to think of photo.net becoming a destination for people with a sick interest in these type of images.

We have already seen what might unfold by looking at what happens on the site with images of adult nudes. There are many impressive portfolios of artistic nudes on this site. But we also must regularly delete pornographic images. Some people can't tell the difference. Others think that because photo.net permits images of nudes, that it must be a porn site. Others realize that the site doesn't permit pornography but upload it anyway because they are trolls trying to make trouble or trying to make a point about "censorship". And in between the images that most of our audience would agree are artistic and those that almost everyone would agree are pornography, there is a long slippery slope where there is perpetual disagreement. For the site, the issue is basically a no-win. There are many images in the boundary zone, where we will be criticized if we delete them, and criticized if we don't. In any case, the decision was made long ago that images of adult nudes are an artistic and photographic tradition and that photo.net would be open to them and that we would live with the consequences of having nudes on the site. Even so, it creates a lot of work and it remains an area of constant dispute.

But we are not going to step anywhere near a similar slippery slope with images of child nudity, and there is not going to be any exploration on this site as to where the boundaries are with images of child nudes. This is an American site, and there are too many people in the United States for whom any nude image of a child is beyond the pale for us to be open in any way to child nudity. Some of those people are prepared to back up their views with subpoenas, federal indictments, felony convictions and prison terms. A debate where some of the participants are basically anonymous people on the Internet typing on their computers at home decrying censorship, and some of the people in the debate might end up going to jail if they misstep or misjudge -- that is not a debate we are going to have.

That is why we have in the photo.net Terms of Use the requirement that the subjects in images involving nudity must be over the age of eighteen. Any image involving nudity where the subjects are between 4 years and 18 years old is simply not allowed on the site. When we find such images they will be removed, without any further consideration of whether they are pornographic, or artistic.

I think Jock's portfolio was wonderful. I am more relieved than I can say that he has removed it.

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