Bill Henson School Controversy

The controversial Australian photographer Bill Henson is making news again down under. Earlier in the year he had his Roslyn Oxley9 exhibition in Sydney raided by police with several nude photos being seized (and later returned). Henson was labelled everything from a pornographer to a paedophile and even prompted the Australian prime minister to call the photos revolting.

Bill Henson ControversiesHenson now has the school teacher Sue Knight in trouble after she allowed the photographer to search for models at the St Kilda Park Primary School when she was the principal of the Melbourne school.

Here’s some more from the Canberra Times.. “Parents of children at the primary school where photographer Bill Henson scouted the playground for models have supported the artist and the principal’s decision to allow him into the school. St Kilda Park Primary School council president David Myer said the school backed former principal Sue Knight who escorted Mr Henson around the school last year.”

I must confess that if I had an 11 year old daughter at school, I wouldn’t like a middle aged man scouting the school for possible nude photos. The matter is still being investigated but it seems that the media is making the incident sound much scarier than it actually was.

Bill Henson remained silent during his controversial Sydney exhibition earlier in the year, but has spoken to the Age’s David Marr about the latest media frenzy/witch hunt. Here’s some Bill Henson quotes from the interview..

“Sometimes it’s a friend, or the kids of a friend, or a friend of a friend. Sometimes it can be a friend of a relative. Sometimes you are walking down the street or you are in a restaurant and you see someone. There is this face. All you can do is give them a card and say: ‘Look, just Google me, and I’d be very interested in photographing your daughter or son.’ “
Bill Henson

“I went in there (the Melbourne school) just wandered around while everyone was having their lunch. I saw this boy, and I saw a girl too actually, and I thought they would be great and the principal said, ‘Fine, I will give the parents a ring and let you know.’ So the ball is always in their court. The girl’s parents went, ‘Oh no, we don’t think it’s for us’ and the boy’s parents said, ‘Yes, sure.’ So … that is how I started working with him.”
Bill Henson

About Dion

Australian artist and observer of things.. all kinds of things. I like a wide variety of art, from the weird and wonderful to the bold and beautiful.. and everything in between.


  1. I don’t think what Henson did is respectable. It’s actually quite creepy.

  2. Donald Frazell says:

    While not quite pornography, his photographs are far from innocent. Except in marking them as prey. They do not celebrate youth, the beauty of young humans, but the desires of an adult put on the child. The lighting and deep emotional poses, somethings kids these ages dont possesss, reflects the desires of the “artist’.

    They are abpout as pure as the flag waving and cross carrying of the far right, using supposedly pure subjects for ones own twisted passions. A coverup, while uncovering our children.

    Yes, quite creepy.

    Art collegia delenda est
    A cover for all things self absorbed. And therefore decadent.

  3. I have a major problem with the principle allowing anyone, including a controversial photographer, to use a school as a means to scout for personal purposes. So putting aside what anyone thinks of this particular photographer, I find her behaviour as a guardian of a educational institution extremely questionable.

  4. I don’t know why the principal still has a job. In the US you can get fired for far less. Are schools in Australia locked down like most US schools are?

  5. I wouldnt say schools are “locked down” in Australia, but the fences of schools seem to be getting bigger each year.

    I guess it’s a matter of time before they look like prisons and people are searched before entering. Which is good for student safety, but I think it reflects badly on society.

  6. Donald Frazell says:

    Here in Long Beach, at Poly HS, home of Snoop Dogg and many other rappers, there is only one entrance into the school after the bell rings, and only four before that. One must sign in and out, but this is for gangbangers. Anyone who trys to molest a kid there would be deader than McPalins chances at being President. And our economy.

  7. Donald, I don’t think the race has been won yet. If American voters were rational, I would say the race was over, but you guys voted for George W Bush twice, so I won’t be surprised if McPalin wins.

    I just watched the debate. McCain is a master piner. He’s an emotional vampire that makes me laugh everytime I hear him say “my friend.”

    All politicians lie, but it would be nice to have a change after 8 years of insanity.

  8. Donald Frazell says:

    Yeah, the Bradley factor ahs yet to take effect, only when white voter enter the booth does that come out. Polls can be meaningless, as was shown when lAs Mayor Bradley lost for governor when entering with a 10% poll lead on election day.

    But McCain is old as hell, will beolder than Reagan if elected, and losing it. Already lsot his dignity and honor with his lying despearate selfish beleiving only he can save the world. Ahole. He was a decent guy, but he no longer has earned respect.

    The rust best is key, he bailed from Michigan, losing Pennsylvania, if Ohio goes it could be a wipeout, but all depends on the last weeks before teh election. Any crazy alQaeda stuff and it could turn, Americans are cowardly lemming now. Gotta suck it up and do what is best for America, not our own pocketbooks adn fears controlling us.

    It will be close, but bad news wil continue economicaly which favors the Dems, though they arent facing reality either. Huge interest rate cut today further guarantees inflation when this cap ends in a year or two. Gotta raise taxes on the rich, even jsut getting them back to Clinton era taxes, at first, wil help emmensely. But taxes are the boogie man of voters now, or politicians think so. Gotta get them ready to face the truth, gotta pay for what you get.

    Ooops, sorry, on my political rant again, better stay away from history or you are doomed.

    Sending you my latest in a day or so, but started and got the preliminaries for my Judgement painting done in one weekend, and going to redo my old one as the Trial, its ballanced and in suspension, this one is not. All nudes other than that, the wonderful and the horror, now thats ballance. And goes about defining who we are, and our feelings of God. Michelangelo did it all on one ceiling. Now THAT was art. He fought teh Church for his own view to be seen, and won.

    Se the Catholic church is seeking art now, goina try them. Can they handle it? The wife says I nailed it, we will see. But this Henson guy represents that other force, self absorbtion and all the sins, as he puts adult feelings on children. Quite unnatural. And twisted.

  9. Yeah, some of Bill Henson’s work is creepy. Not because he photographs young people nude, but because of some of the things that his pictures infer. A lot of his work is very beautiful and innocent too though, so maybe it all evens out.

    Also, Americans, like all countries, but especially Americans, seem to be easy to manipulate. The McPalin crew will use fear and pride to get their way with voters. McCain just has to crank up the fear factor to code red, wear TWO American flag pins on his chest (and point out that sometimes Obama isn’t wearing his flag pins on his, and tell a few more sad and/or heroic war stories and he’ll win. That my friend is how McCain will win, my friend.

  10. Donald Frazell says:

    McCain is self destructing, but Americans are incredibly scared of everything and weak. It will be close, but damn we cant afford more of the same, he knows absolutely nothing, and admittedly so, about economics. He will bring in the clowns. God help us.


  11. Just passing by. I’m an art teacher myself but a librarian by heart. I wonder if there are any real artists among the critics behind the Bill Henson controversy.

    From what i understand – based on my humble experience – is that:

    1)It takes true art lovers to really appreciate art in “any” form.
    2) Only true artists have the background experience to criticise fellow artists.
    3) Politicians who butt their noses in the art world should be true artists themselves.

    You can also rephrase it this way:

    1)It takes eager learners to really appreciate education in “any” form.
    2) Only true educators have the background experience to criticise fellow educators.
    3) Politicians who butt their noses in the educational world should be true educators themselves.

    Or maybe this way:

    1)It takes respectful children to really appreciate good parenting in “any” form.
    2) Only good parents have the background experience to criticise fellow parents.
    3) Politicians who butt their noses in our childrens’ lives should be good parents themselves.

    Either way, i believe that all concerned citizens who criticise so much should calm down more often and see the bigger picture.

    The more we debate on a certain topic, the further we dig into it and quarrel amongst ourselves until there is nothing left to discuss.

    Uninteresting topics, on the other hand, are not debated, and are therefore forgotten overnight.

    Art, like education, has been around for a long time. But, one thing is true.

    Culture is a manifestation of people. The way people think and behave changes. So does culture. What we debate on is usually a cultural phenomenon. Controversies like this come and go. There were no controversies like this generations ago because it was “accepted” then but “debated” now. Most probably, generations from now, when people will be dressing up much much less and express their thoughts much much more, our descendants will laugh at us for being so silly.

  12. I honestly feel that Henson’s artwork is just fine. I am 14 yrs old myself, and while I would not want to be photographed nude, other people have no problem with it. I see his artworks as beautiful, not creepy at all. It’s not as though he grabbed the kid and told him to get naked. He rang the parents and asked, and they were OK with it. There is nothing shameful about a naked body, and anyone who thinks there is needs to wake up to the 21st century.

    The whole point of art is that it pushes the boundaries. So lay off Henson.

  13. I am a student of photography and also an activist against the sexual exploitation of women and children. I heard a man say on the news, “If that was from another culture..would it be prohibited”. The answer is, “Probably not”. Things like culture, age, and the context of the nudity are factors in whether this is negative. I admire Bill’s talent, but because of our culture, the age automatically does not fit. Which means that [most], not all, child nudity will be out of context or at least taken out of context.

    We have seen many exceptions such as Sally Mann, who published a photo book in 1992 of her children, which was also controversial. Mann of course saw these to be “natural through the eyes of a mother, since she has seen her children in every state: happy, sad, playful, sick, bloodied, angry and even naked.” Time Magazine later named her “America’s Best Photographer” in 2001.

    Henson is no different than Mann, or even Aida, who are all known to produce art that is very tasteful with high standards in quality. But until we have a discussion about what is too far for child nudity, film and photo, the law should take action. Prosecutions? Probably not in this case.

    If the law needs to be changed or amended, then there you have it, but don’t change the rules yourself for the sake of art. Unfortunately with human trafficking at its highest, child pornography at a heightened state, mother’s selling their children into sex slavery [in America} and more pressure than ever on every government to do something, its safe to say that it will be a cold day in the devil’s pit before laws are changed in the favor of children being a part of nude art.

  14. My point of view is that Bill Henson’s photographs are fine. They are works of art and you would see that if you look at it from an artist’s point of view. He isn’t forcing the kids to get naked, he asks the parents if they agree to it. His work is quite amazing.
    You really have to give the guy a break.

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