The Bill Henson controversy has all but collapsed, but will the artist’s reputation ever recover?

Certainly leading public figures have done their best to ensure that it might not. How do their comments look now in light of the failure to lay any charges?

Forget too that the Classification Board has now cleared the five photos seized by police for general release. Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister and First Parent sticks by his view that the works are “absolutely revolting”.

Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson said the works “violate Australian values”. “This photographic exhibition, from what I have seen and what I have been advised, violates the things for which we stand as Australians and indeed as parents.” There’s the parent thing again. 

NSW Premier Morris Iemma put in his two cents all the way from China, declaring the pictures “offensive and disgusting”. 

Victorian Premier John Brumby had not seen the photographs. On whether they were art or p-rnography he said: “Art is always a very fine line — I probably lean in this case to saying it crossed the line.” 

Liberal Senator Guy Barnett wasn’t pulling any punches. Henson defenders promoted one law for art galleries and another for computers he said, noting “it is child p-rnography and a perversion of art”.

Fellow Liberal Senator Stephen Parry said the photographs breach all the possible areas of legislation addressing child p-rnography. He went as far as to compare the photos of n-ked children to 100 ecstasy tablets. “If photographs of n-de children are taken to be art, then every deviant person that wishes to hold illegal images would store them on their digital camera, and when questioned, would state that they were going to be used as ‘photographic art’.”

But it wasn’t just politicians who had a crack; the press certainly helped it along.

Miranda Devine, in an attempt to instigate panic in parents across Australia, said we live in “a culture dripping with s-xual imagery … The effort over many decades by various groups — artists, perverts, academics, libertarians, the media and advertising industries, respectable corporations and the porn industry — to smash taboos of previous generations and define down community standards, has successfully eroded the special protection once afforded childhood.”

Hetty Johnson, Executive Director and founder of child protection group Bravehearts, said that Bill Henson “has a tendency to depict children naked and that is p-rn”. 

So much outrage, so little time.

Get more Crikey, for less

It’s more than a newsletter. It’s where readers expect more – fearless journalism from a truly independent perspective. We don’t pander to anyone’s party biases. We question everything, explore the uncomfortable and dig deeper.

Join us this week for 50% off a year of Crikey.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
50% off