Irresponsible Adults and 'Artistic' Perverts

The photograph depicts two nude young girls. One is “sitting down with her legs wide apart,” according to the London Telegraph, Sept. 25, 2007.

If a run-of-the-mill pervert possessed the photo, he'd be incarcerated, not celebrated. But because it's the “work” of a “noted” photographer, and is owned by Sir Elton John and displayed in a museum, avant-gardists, including John, have declared it fine art.

The picture, “Klara And Edda Belly-Dancing,” by American photographer Nan Goldin, was seized last week on the eve of an exhibition at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, northeast England. It was one of 149 pictures John owns on display at the “Thanksgiving” exhibition.

A spokesman for Northumbria Police said management for the BalticMuseum called last Thursday seeking advice about the possible offensiveness of the item prior to putting it on public display.

Apparently, the adults at the BalticMuseum are unwilling to refuse to display the sexual exploitation of a child no matter how “talented” the photographer is or how famous the owner. They're concerned solely about legality.

Does anybody think it matters to the girl whether her exploitation is technically legal? Doesn't displaying the photo in public, especially with the respectability conferred by a museum, aggravate the harm to the child?

How does a sexually exploited child become an object of art? When adults abdicate responsibility as protectors of children and vanguards of public morality and decency, children become the nation's most endangered species. When adults equate legal with moral, appropriate and acceptable, perversion can find patronage.

“British rock veteran Elton John on Wednesday defended the photograph he owns after police seized it from an exhibition to investigate a possible breach of child pornography laws,” according to, Sept. 26.

“The photograph exists as part of the installation as a whole and has been widely published and exhibited throughout the world,” according to a statement on John's Web site. He claims the picture has been exhibited around the world without any objections of which he's aware.

A spokeswoman for the Baltic museum said: “We are working alongside the police and are not in a position to comment further.”

Moral equivalence regarding public display of sexually exploitive photographs of children has a history on this side of the pond as well. Books by photographers Sally Mann, David Hamilton and Jock Sturges have pictures that some prosecutors have argued violate child pornography laws. The books can be found in major book store chains and public libraries.

Consider the reviews of Mann's book, At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women, posted on

“Haunting black-and-white studies of children, shown here as surprisingly sensual and often distant beings, the magical keepers of some obscure and vaguely frightening secrets.”--Karen Lipson, Newsday

“Sally Mann's photography is a clear pane...not intrusion, but revelation. These young women distill something for the eye...something beautiful and sad and moving, something purely female.”--Diane Sawyer

“Sally Mann is the real thing. Just look at these photographs! At Twelve is an American classic.”--Annie Dillard:

For starters, twelve-year-old girls aren't young women. And responsible adults shouldn't exploit vulnerable children by referring to them as “sensual.” The bottom line should be determined by what's proper, not just profitable.

In the meantime, the public will express a modicum of outrage at the next news of a child pornography/pedophile bust. “Why isn't more being done to stop this? We need tougher laws and longer sentences to keep these perverts from our kids.”

Tell it to Elton, the absentee adults at the BalticMuseum, your local bookstore and public library. When they tell you it's all legal and they're opposed to censorship, tell them it's not about what's legal; it's about what's right and wrong. And remind the book peddlers and museum curators that choosing not to sell or display the exploitation of children isn't censorship, it's responsibility and decency—something that used to be a hallmark of private enterprise.

Jan LaRue, Esq. is a member of the Board of Advisors of the Culture and Media Institute.