This guest post is written by Elizabeth Fleming.

Last month I had the pleasure of joining friend and fellow photographer Jonathan Blaustein on a tour of the Chelsea gallery scene as he conducted research for an APE article, which can be read in its entirety (here). We decided to stop by Aperture and wandered into their back room where, tucked into what was essentially a chink in the wall, several photographs by the controversial Jock Sturges were on display. Before I had my own children I never cared much about him one way or the other, but now his images struck me as distressingly sexualized and, frankly, unsettling. Jonathan puts it best in his piece when he says that: “even in a world of moral relativity, these images transgressed some basic taboo.”

I didn’t trust the work at face value, and I wanted to examine why: I began thinking in particular about the delicate relationship between creator and subject when a certain intimacy is involved; the questions brought about by the dissemination of such work in the internet age; and the fact that Sturges’ models are almost uniformly beautiful, raising issues about preoccupations with appearance. I soon discovered that my uneasy feelings were not groundless: I found Sturges to be strangely silent on the topic of how he feels his work functions in a contemporary setting, and I learned that he had at one point had an affair with an underage girl, making the question of age and beauty that much more suspect.

So with all that in mind I’ll throw out the following question: is it fair to expect any artist to recontextualize his or her work if the original frames of reference have changed due to technological advances and/or societal shifts? Is it fair to take into account an artist’s persona in general and, if there is a model involved, the specificities of the artist/subject relationship? Certainly images must first be viewed on their own merit, but after we have detached ourselves from preconceived notions about the meaning of the work based on the fame or notoriety (or lack thereof) of the maker and the particulars of place and time in which the work was made, there is always an underlying context. Ultimately art does not exist in a vacuum, otherwise typing “Shakespeare biography” into the search bar on Amazon would not return thousands of results.

Sturges is a photographer who is nothing if not notorious. Rather than join the already beaten-to-death dispute over whether his work is art or pornography or neither, I’ll try my best to stick to the issues noted above and ask again, as it pertains to Sturges individually, whether it matters that when he began exhibiting in the early 1990s, his pictures of preadolescent and teenaged girls would almost exclusively be seen by a selective crowd. Those who wished to view his images had to seek out gallery exhibitions or purchase one of his books or prints, which created a controlled system of distribution. Today things are very different, as we all know—any image that is put online will be around the world and back in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.

According to Sturges, the dignity of his models is his highest priority, and part of his way of preventing them from potentially feeling debased has been to give them final say over where their likenesses will end up, ad infinitum. In a 1994 interview he stated: “It’s not inconceivable that at some point in the future [the models] might decide that these pictures embarrass them; the control, the power to decide whether that happens or not, shouldn’t be mine—it should be the kids’, and that’s where it stays. It creates a very complex life for me, I promise you. When I want to use a picture in a book, I have got to call foreign countries, find people, explain the context.”

That is all well and good, but the establishment of the internet has fundamentally changed the conversation. The discussions we are having in 2010 are not the same ones we were having in 1994, and the idea of jurisdiction over one’s likeness is now a fallacy. (Quick note: Aperture itself does not show the photographs I saw in its gallery online, requiring any interested party to email them directly, but a quick internet search easily found pictures of the girl shown in the images elsewhere.) If a child grows up and decides she is uncomfortable with naked photographs of herself being shown it is already too late—her request exists in an entirely different world. If Sturges’ definition of dignity is synonymous with control, then dignity is stripped every time that girl’s image is propagated on websites far and wide, and once out there, there’s no taking it back. Despite much searching, I couldn’t find any reference by Sturges himself to a change of attitude in how he views the circulation of his images in the 21st century versus the 20th.

Then there is the question of recontextualization. While search returns for Sturges mostly directed me to fine art websites, inevitably there was some usage on erotica blogs and alongside pop-up ads for teen chat rooms and the like; a handful had once been displayed on actual pornography sites but had since been removed. Whether due to copyright infringement or because Sturges is being careful to try to keep his images out of such places is unclear, but this detail is at least heartening. Still, I would surmise that there are doubtless more than a few instances of his work appearing uncredited on pornography sites, particularly since, chillingly, they would be categorized as pedophilia which—being illegal—is underground. Should Sturges be concerned about this? I believe so, or I believe he should at least engage in a dialog about all of the facets of internet use. And yet he seems determined to stick firmly to platitudes about nudists’ lack of shame, about people’s general prudishness, and about how, while there may be some who will look at his work and have “impure thoughts” (his term), there are also people out there who, quote, “buy shoe ads, Saran Wrap, and all manner of things who have impure thoughts. I can’t really do anything about those people.”

What he fails to address is the fact that shame or not, “impure thoughts” or not, any young model Sturges photographs should be aware of where her likeness might end up. There is a difference between someone looking at a picture in a “neutral” environment versus on a site amidst images whose sole purpose is to arouse. Whether the responsibility ultimately falls firmly on the shoulders of an offending viewer is somewhat beside the point—yes, one can’t control every off-the-books (mis)use of one’s images, but in Sturges’ case it’s inescapable that the scope of the misuse is potentially wide. I can’t help but wonder if a 10 or 11-year-old girl, no matter how emotionally mature, can fully grasp all of the issues involved.

Interestingly, in 2006 Sturges became a member of the site and soon after was (in my opinion, respectfully) asked by the administrator to remove images of anyone under 18. Here is his response: “Well, I will pack up and go. I am an all-or-nothing sort as I never censor my work in any part myself nor condone others doing so on my behalf. Your rules are what they are I suppose. I was naive in imaging [sic] that my work which is published and available world wide would not be problematic in your forum. It hadn’t even occurred to me that it would be. Silly of me. I leave with regret because I love writing about photography…So it goes.” When some commenters then raised the issue of context he never responded.

More than once Sturges refers to the naïveté expressed above—here is another quote from his 1994 interview: “I’ve always been drawn to and fascinated by physical, sexual and psychological change, and there’s an erotic aspect to that…It never occurred to me that anybody could find anything about that perverse. It was a total surprise to me, which is obviously evidence of my having been pretty profoundly naive about the American context. But over the course of my life I’ve spent so much time in this context that I’d forgotten that Homo sapiens isn’t always like that, which is indeed naive of me. I’m guilty of extraordinary naiveté, I suppose. But it’s a naiveté that I really don’t want to abandon, not even now.” He truly seems not to have abandoned said naïveté, given that 16 years after the previous paragraph was spoken he was on stating anew that it had never occurred to him that his images might be deemed problematic. Again, I am not speaking about people placing their own analyses onto his pictures, but rather am attempting to draw attention to Sturges’ personal reaction to the questions surrounding his work.

In my opinion it feels somewhat disingenuous for Sturges to cite his astonishment over the reception of his photographs in light of his own past predilections, which brings me around to the tricky matter of whether an artist’s history and persona should have any bearing on the interpretation of his or her work. In 1998 it was revealed—through the release of a semi-autobiographical film by a woman named Jennifer Montgomery called “Art for Teachers of Children”—that she and Sturges had had an affair when she was 14 and he was 28. Admittedly, we can dig through practically anyone’s past and turn up plenty of dirty laundry, but Sturges’ liaison with a minor applies so specifically to the nucleus of his continuing thematic motifs that for him to claim he is surprised when people view the children in his images through a primarily sexual lens seems suspect. I believe it is pertinent to mention that his current wife was also once one of his models, whom he began photographing when she was 11.

If we wish to hear Sturges defend his actions regarding his relationship with Montgomery there’s not much to go on—the only reference I could find was the following, from a 1998 LA Times article: “I’m not a philanderer. I’ve had four relationships in my life. That’s it. Period. She was the second. And it was at a point in time when I was getting divorced from my wife. I was vulnerable and making bad decisions. That’s obviously embarrassing now, but in light of my regard for her intelligence and the stature of her intellect—I’m human.” I would say that whether he’s had four relationships or forty is beside the point, the fundamental issue being Montgomery’s age at the time of the affair. Regardless, gleaning solid factual information via the internet is admittedly risky business (I can practically hear the stampeding horses of angry commenters approaching) so I won’t claim to know for certain what did or did not happen and instead say this: in the many hours spent researching this article and mulling over Sturges’ words I have come away with the overall impression that he does not fully address the scope and breadth of the origins of, and reaction to, his work.

In particular, he fails to acknowledge that the societal structures that exist alongside his imagery might be something other than simply “repressive” or overly politically correct. Putting the blame back onto society is an easy way out, akin to ending a heated argument with a defiant “it’s a free country.” Tellingly, his exchanges about certain issues—such as Puritanical attitudes, American prudishness, and how the people pointing fingers should look back at themselves—are vehement and precise, e.g., “if you read sexuality into my pictures, beyond what’s inherent to a human being, then the work is acting as a Rorschach, and you’re evincing sexual immaturity or sexual malaise in your own life. I have to tell you, I am sometimes deeply suspicious of the sexual mental health of some of the people who point their wavering fingers at the morality, the art, of others.”

In contrast, his opinions about other areas just mentioned (the internet, his sexual past, the fact that not all of clothed society is necessarily inhibited) are generalized or nonexistent. In examining the following quote, which is the closest he really comes to delving into the controversy, I find him to be rather vague: “As soon as somebody says that you might be x, you have to immediately say, ‘Oh no, I’m y,’ even if in fact the truth is probably somewhere in the middle…[I’ve had] to pretend to be something that, quite frankly, I’m probably not, which is a lily-white, absolutely artistically pure human being. In fact, I don’t believe I’m guilty of any crimes, but I’ve always been drawn to and fascinated by physical, sexual, and psychological change, and there’s an erotic aspect to that. It would be disingenuous of me to say there wasn’t. There it is; so what? That fascination pervades the species from the beginning of time; people just admit to it to varying degrees.” I’m sure given how often he has had to defend his methods over the years he is loath to delve too deeply into multilayered philosophical discussions about his themes, but if he wants to rail against the established system, he must also take into account all facets of that system without for the most part dismissing it outright or accusing his viewers of sexual immaturity when they dare question his work.

The last thing I’d like to touch on is the concept of beauty and its depiction. It practically goes without saying that talk of beauty and its ilk arises again and again in Sturges’ discussions regarding what draws him to the girls in question. He says he hopes not only to celebrate their beauty but also their individuality, pictorially showing his sense of connection to his subjects, and that he wants his models to be fully themselves, which means he doesn’t ask them to “pose” per se. Personally, I feel once again that there is a gap between what Sturges claims he is attempting to reveal in his work and the actuality of his work. He says wants people to look at his pictures and realize “what complex, fascinating, interesting people every single one of my subjects is. They’re all different. I don’t photograph any two people who are remotely the same” yet for me the uniformity of the girls’ faces—the direct stares, the neutrality of expression—and the fact that they satisfy widely accepted notions of what constitutes attractiveness ends up making them all run together in my mind.

Sturges_NicoleWhile Sturges does address that having worked with classically trained dancers is likely where he developed his “appetite for the slender, athletic line” that you often see in his work, he still emphasizes that ultimately he must have deep personal bonds with his subjects. Further still, he expresses happiness at being able, he believes, to help girls who do not feel pretty realize that they are. Sturges tells a lengthy story about a girl named Nicole (in the image to the right) who was embarrassed by her extreme height and long limbs; after being photographed extensively one afternoon, Nicole’s father told Sturges that she “just for the first time in her life told me that she thinks she’s pretty.” Sturges then elaborates: “That afternoon, for her, was what the French call a date changé. It was a changing point for her. Her sense of self and self-esteem changed dramatically that afternoon, and I felt absolutely ecstatic to have been part of that.” I would argue that this feat might be easier overall when the girl is for the most part conventionally beautiful.

Which begs the question, if beauty is not just skin deep, then why is there never a truly awkward child in any of Sturges’ pictures, one who does not fit into more mainstream ideals of attractiveness—a full-figured girl say, or one with ample armpit hair or some scars? Sturges claims he would never want to photograph someone whose personality he didn’t like—if so then I’m fairly impressed that these girls, chosen for both their physical beauty and the depth of their character, never at any point in their development got a pimple. As a side note, a beautiful girl—due to cultural depictions of desire—more likely than not will be surveyed through a seductive lens.

More revealing still is that in the two images I could find of heavier subjects—both grown adults—one is shown fully clothed, while the other is seen from a distance as part of a group that includes lithe young girls as well as men. If anyone finds more than a few isolated examples that contradict my findings, send them my way and I’ll revise my criticism. As for now, in an internet soup full of Sturges’ pictures, those two were all I turned up. (His books may show a different story, but for the sake of argument I’m going to stick to what is readily available, taking it as the most accurate reflection of the bulk of his work.) And for all of his talk about the individual shining through (thoughts on “attractiveness” aside) the I’m-so-perfectly-lying-on-a-log, somewhat stilted sensibility in his images belies his claim that he does not pose his models, which is a topic for another day.

In the end Sturges’ reticence regarding fundamental issues raised by his imagery calls into question his proclamations that he is simply celebrating the human body in its intended state. Further, his insistence that American society’s discomfort with children’s sensuality is a projection of their own learned shame ultimately strikes me as a smokescreen. If anything, his own silence on certain matters within a public forum displays the same proclivity for hiding that he so condemns. And wherever the locus of my own discomfort when viewing his pictures lies may ultimately be beside the point—not everyone will know the back-story to the work, so the issue has shifted from one of viewer reaction to that of distribution. There may be no changing the context of where his photographs are seen, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still discuss whether they should have even been there in the first place.

Elizabeth Fleming is a photographer and mother of two young daughters.

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  1. Interestingly written article, but seemingly very prejudice! Jock Sturges is an American Citizen, who has spent a considerable amount of time residing and working in France (notably his work shot in Montalivet). European culture (as I believe we are all aware), is far more liberal than that of North America, and I believe he and his works are therefore perceived differently, depending upon which side of the Atlantic you belong to.

    The French “Lolita” has long since been a icon of sexual desire, heightened in Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel. It is yet another form of “fetish”! Jock Sturges is far from alone in his choice of subjects, indeed, I would suggest that David Hamilton has achieved more international acclaim than Jock ever will!

    If we look back through art history, the desire to visually portray beautiful “adolescent” girls is nothing new, notably Egon Schiele, who spent some time in prison as a result of this passion. Likewise Gustave Klimt, who was less obsessed with the adolescence, but notorious for the fact that he had sexual relationships with the fast majority of his models, thus directly relevant to your comments on the individual persona of the artist in question.

    Should Jock Sturges be concerned about his work being categorised as “pedophilia”? I would say the answer is undoubtedly yes! Pedophilia is illegal and I personally believe a subject very far from what Jock Sturges is intending to convey in his works.

    Should he be concerned as to how is work is distributed and visualised in this modern age of technology? I would say no! The artist’s right of freedom of expression should never be infringed upon and Jock Sturges is without question an acclaimed artist, recognised as such internationally. The fact that his work is distributed differently today as to when it was forst created, is irrelevant, just as it is irrelevant to Egon Schiele’s works. The fact that one media is works on paper and the other is photography, is completely irrelevant.

  2. Thanks for this, Elizabeth.

    Certain aspects of this article, your thoughts and questions (specifically about internet distribution) pertain to a project I’m doing with a heroin addict, Stephanie. (I’m spending time with her, helping get her papers in order so she can get into a rehab program, all the while taking portraits if her.) I’ve been blogging this project every week and not a day goes by when I don’t question the ethics of this approach….Am I turning this project into a reality show? What are Stephanie’s aims, what are mine? What are my responsibilities vis-a-vis my relationship to her? And so on and so forth.

    I think that one of the differences between Mr Sturge’s work (at least how how you frame it) and the project I’m doing with Steph is that the questioning of the ethics and morals of the trip I’m on with her are an integral part of the project. Now, I don’t say that as a cop-out, as a way to get around the repercussions of the project…..In fact, I’d actually like to arrive at some conclusion, finally make my mind up about whether I can live with what I’m doing. (Stephanie, on the other hand, is in full support of the project and approach.)

    One thing I do know is that the answers are not black and white, what’s correct for some is not correct for others. But I believe that it’s important to take risks and chances, that way we move forward…..The problem being (with photography) that others (the subjects of the photos) are also involved in whatever might happen. Be that as it may, I’m an anti-censorship kind of guy and have a certain kind of respect people who stir the pot, take risks, whether I can support their work or not.

    • Hi Tony, thanks for your comments, very insightful.

      Questioning the ethics around your project is what, to me, makes the creation of your work a just endeavor. I think honesty is half the battle in art-which does not mean an artist actually has to have all of the answers, merely that he or she should be able to engage in a nuanced discussion of the various questions. This is what I find lacking in many respects in regard to Sturges.

      Another difference is that in your pictures (which are beautiful, by the way) I don’t get the same sense of objectification that I feel in Sturges’ images. This objectification is largely why I find his work feels so sexually charged in a disturbing way–I want to be honest about this, which is the reason I don’t shy from giving my perspective from the get-go.

      This is also why I discuss the issue of beauty in that it belies his claim that the individual is tantamount. Thus the age question feels particularly thorny, outside of moral relativism, which is a whole other can of worms. In your work I truly do have a sense of each person being an entity unto him or herself, which partly answers for me the overall question you raise of the ethics that are involved in the photographer/subject interaction, be it fleeting or lasting.

      That said, I agree the answers are not always black and white-I am not proposing censorship, but I do feel that when children are involved we even more so than normal need to continually keep the conversation going and be willing to accept that sometimes, on a case-by-case basis, we have to be very careful in how we tread. I think it’s imperative to be incisive about how the gray-area issues are approached, not in a book-burning sort of way, but in recognizing that to question the work can be about more than Puritanism.

      I’ll be sure to keep up with your blog and follow your process and thoughts. Thanks again.

  3. Elizabeth,

    Ironically, your lengthy opinion on the subject of someone else’s publishing responsibilities ignores your own naked dereliction of duty.

    You invested the time to write over 3,000 words in criticism of another artist. You contributed those words to a widely-read industry forum. But did you place a simple phone call to Jock Sturges or to his gallery to ask his opinion on your thesis?

    You don’t indicate any such effort.

    Is that your responsibility? This is just a blog, after all.

    Well, let’s see.

    Your own website features images of unclothed children…

    If someone publicly and profusely called your motives into question and used only quotes of yours that could be found on the Internet in defense of your actions, would that be fair?

    Are these your own children you’ve portrayed half-naked? What kind of parent are you? What is your duty to these children and to decency? Are there nefarious parties republishing your images? How do you know? Why don’t you take pictures of uglier children – isn’t that your responsibility as an artist? How might that affect my child’s body image? Etc.

    Unfortunately, you didn’t want to open a dialogue. You just wanted to hear yourself talk.

    Jock is absolutely right: what you think about his images says more about you than it does about him. How can we be sure?

    Because you didn’t take the time to ask.

    • @Dave Getzschman, More than just half naked. It would be easy to imagine all sorts of fetish themes in her “small moments” portfolio.
      bondage, facial, masochism, loss of female virginity (closely following the bondage photo), upskirt.
      Others could easily be characterized as sexually provocative or suggestive

      The more I look at this the more it seems like a publicity scam. She declares a photographer’s work as controversial and then displays the same controversial content in her own portfolio. Would have been a great move if it weren’t so obvious.

      • @sd, wow. I think you really have to look at both works a little deeper.
        Almost anything can be construed as sexually provocative, true. But I think it is really important to take a look at who is photographing the subjects and what is the intent, yes? Because I am a mother of young daughters, I “see” these moments all the time~the kid in their underwear on the couch, etc. Because I am an artist, I also “see” these as telling portraits of a point in my kid’ life. Does it refer back to bondage, etc? For me, maybe. Only in that America is pretty wack about all things sexual. (including nudity, I agree!) But because I am also friends with parents who have daughters the same age as many of Sturges’ subjects, as well as being that age once upon a time myself, I can see how having an older male photographing me in the nude, potentially “coaxing’ a certain look from me, can feel completely different. And maybe not as innocent a situation as everyone seems to think. Does that make sense?

    • @Dave Getzschman,
      Its an opinion piece moron.

      • @moron, I suspect your response wouldn’t be so flippant if it were your motives and life work that were being publicly impugned here.

        Let’s label this ‘opinion piece’ properly: it is a reckless shot at another human being’s professional reputation.

        As one other commenter has stated, to hear Jock speak about his work in person is to appreciate his intent.

        When one artist scrawls 3,000 words about another artist on the basis of some Internet research and publishes it on an industry blog, it’s not fair to call it an opinion – ‘attack’ is more like it.

        This is professional jealousy articulated and crafted into a cheap and irresponsible promotional stunt.

        • @Dave Getzschman,

          How’s the view on your high horse?

          I think Mr. Sturges has endured a lot more criticism than Elizabeth has written here. As Moron pointed out it is an opinion piece on a blog of all places. Opinion. Not fact. Not hard hitting truth finding journalsim. Opinion.

          And then you go on to do the same to her work. Base it on opinion.

          And professional jealousy? is that an opinion too or are you basing that off truths you found after spending 5 min you spent on her site?

          • @myles,

            a) Clear skies up here.
            b) Why make someone read your opinion if it is transparent, calibrated, attention-seeking character defamation of an unwitting third party?
            c) In defense of one who was not permitted to defend himself, yes. And by your standards, anyone can offer an opinion, no matter how empty-headed, if the venue is a blog. No responsibility required to the subject you willingly slander or to the audience whom you are desperately hoping to impress.
            d) Precisely my point. My assessment of the author, her work and motives were as fair as her assessment of Jock Sturges.

    • @Dave Getzschman, Some strong points you have made.

  4. so what is the reason he should have to justify his style of life and art to someone who openly exploits the life and accidents and pain of children by posting pictures of even more private situations than we ever see from mr sturges?

  5. Sturges is a lot of things, but “naive” isn’t one of them. “Too clever” might be.

  6. I think “we” are uncomfortable with Sturges b/c “we” are uncomfortable with nudity. Think about it; outside of the home, the nudity we’re used to seeing is in a very provocative, over done way. Intending to be nothing but sexual. Sturges’s images are completely beautiful, natural and honest.

    • @Nicole Morgenthau,

      Totally agree. Nudity is just that. Pornography is something “other” than just without clothing. I’ve always felt that Sturges’ work is very beautiful regardless of who is in his photos and how old they might be.

  7. Fleming’s article is interesting and well written, but it doesn’t dig very deep in its examination of her own discomfort. After all, it’s her discomfort that is the impetus for the article.

    What to make of the probability that the subjects of Sturges’s photographs were living their lives according to their own values? Does that change our judgement and perceptions of the resulting photographs? How does Sturges’s gender affect our reaction to the work? What if the images were taken by a woman? Mona Kuhn has photographed extensively in the same location in France as Sturges. Is the criticism of Sturges’s work applicable to Kuhn’s, or is the situation somehow different because Kuhn is a woman and made her photographs more recently and at a time when internet technology was readily available?

    The concept of ‘recontextualization’ of Sturges’s work is addressed by Fleming, but she doesn’t make an effort to examine her own discomfort in a different context. It makes me distrust her article at face value in much the same way that she distrusts Sturges’s work.

    • @Matthew,
      thank you for putting some of my observations and questions into words I was having trouble forming. While I think it’s fair to contextualize an artist’s work based on their life story, one should also observe the work on it’s own, and most importantly, observe the effect it has on one’s self. In some respects, I find her work (and Mona Kuhn’s) more interesting than Jock’s. And I’m fairly certain Fleming might agree that I should see more in her work than “mother of 2 daughters whom I photograph”, just as I should see more than “the man who had a relationship with an under-aged model” in the work of Jock Sturges.

    • @Matthew, Good point, but I must disagree with your assessment of her piece being well written. Fleming’s redundancy is sad and displeasurable, and it does nothing to convince me.

    • @Matthew Thank you for your comments, these are important issues and I’d be happy to address them as best I can.

      You raise a valid point re: my discomfort. I have to respectfully disagree that I don’t examine it in the sense that the issues I talk about (context, beauty, etc.) are exactly the reasons *why* I am uncomfortable with the work. I will concede the point that there is definitely the question of whether gender affects said reading, i.e. would I feel the same way if I had no idea a man had taken the pictures. I think it may be inherently impossible to separate the creator from the creation.

      Which brings me to Kuhn. I think the fact that she is a woman changes how she makes the work and thus the reading of it. And though Kuhn speaks about her process in a similar fashion to Sturges, her images read differently to me. While they are certainly sexual, they don’t feel overly sexualized; they seem more democratic, if that makes sense. For me (and here I stress for me *personally*) there are degrees between natural sexuality and objectification, and visually Sturges falls on the wrong side of the equation. Perhaps I could have been clear that it is not the nudity per se that is my issue with Sturges’ images, it is that I find them objectifying. I love Kuhn’s photographs, and am also an admirer of Sally Mann, if we’re to bring a fellow mother into the picture. I would point out that discomfort can also be a non-issue in that Mann arouses feelings of discomfort, but the discomfort feels appropriate to the work, and is openly part of the work. Though I could go on all day about the whys, this was obviously beyond the scope of this particular article (3,000 words is way too much already!)

      If you’re still with me, as far as the models are concerned: I tried to be careful not to write about how they might feel about the work, as it’s not my place to say (the same holds true for Montgomery). It’s more that I am trying to address the issue of control as Sturges sees it. I have no doubt that they are living their lives according to their values-I actually believe naturalists’ attitudes toward the human body and sensuality are much healthier than in the US with its oversexualized/prudish dichotomy. On this I’m in agreement with Sturges. Whether all of this should have an impact on the reading of the work is certainly a valid question, one that I’ll be certain to ponder it more.

      • @Mark, I definitely agree with you-Sturges’ images should be seen not solely from the underage-model-relationship-question but in more complex terms, just as I would want my own work to be viewed. I did my best to give reasons as to why I had the feelings I did-though if Sturges had spoken about his work differently (as I didn’t really know his feelings about it before I wrote the piece) or if there were no affair (which I also was not aware of when I began writing) then it would have been a different article, one in which I most likely would have examined my own discomfort more closely.

        Which is not to say that ultimately I shouldn’t be held accountable for my reaction-all background information aside. But on a purely visual level I still find them predatory in a way that I absolutely do not find Kuhn’s or Mann’s work when also divorced from questions of gender, etc.

        • @Elizabeth Fleming,
          Thanks for your responses…I have to admit, Jock’s relationships (including his lack of experience in such) have influenced the way I see his work. And I only learned of this history after reading your article. As a young man in his 20’s when I first saw his work, I found it to be intriguing, dangerous and beautiful. And as a post-catholic, it was disturbing and at the same time, liberating. But I never thought it was predatory. Since then, we’ve all been flooded with millions of images, many of which we’d rather have never seen, thanks to the internet. And by comparison, even with the knowledge of his history, I still find it difficult to think of his work as predatory. Some have already said this, and I have to agree: no matter what you think of his work, it’s the kind of art that has brought us into a passionate debate. And I would call that good art. Personally, I was deeply disturbed by the Leibovitz cover of Cyrus – not because I have a young niece, and not because I think young people should never be seen as sexual – but because it was devoid void of emotion, complexity, or even wit. It sexualized this girl much the same way Brooke Shields had been, and simply to sell a product.
          Now, the other question you raised, which I would love to see a longer discussion of, is how does the internet affect the future of young subjects who participate in provocative work? How can photographers help them (and their parents) navigate through this, and what is our responsibility as professionals? Had I been one of Jock’s models, I feel I could hold my head higher than many kids today will in 20 years, when images they’ve made of each other are still floating around the net. As a parent, I’d be equally concerned about that as I would about letting my kids around an established artist.

  8. I’ve been a fan of Jock’s work for a long time. I love the stark but illuminated beauty he looks for. A number of years ago I had the opportunity to speak with him for a while and came to really like him. At the time he was very very tired of the criticism of not his work but him as a person for doing that kind of work. I can’t blame him for his feelings of persecution.

    When you consider that his subjects are usually commissioning the work and in many instances he has had a close relationship with the subject for years the nature of the images changes. If he was the usual Guy With Camera hiring young naive models off of Craigslist to pose for him then that could be entirely different.

    I think that Jock’s work is lovely and he is a pretty cool guy who became the target of a few people’s rabid inability to understand his work.

    I wonder if Sally Mann had the police bust into her studio, haul off everything and keep it without warrant or trial for five years because she had whole series of photographs that she had taken of her young daughters while they were topless?

    • @Jonathan Castner – Re: Sally Mann, Nan Goldin and Garry Gross: yes. Their images have been deemed very controversial. See:

  9. I am a little shocked by people using the images Fleming takes of her children in intimate moments as “ammunition” against her discussion on Sturges. As a mother of daughters and a photographer, I understand the desire to show these beautiful creatures in their natural state (which, honestly, is half naked most of the time. Ask any parent!)
    Looking at Sturges’ work I immediately sense a different kind of relationship between photographer and subject. It is the older male gaze~a very different “gaze” than a loving mother. I have known about Sturges’s work for 20 years, now, and I have always felt there was some kind of predatory feeling in his work. Reading about his marriage to a women he has photographed since she was young adds to this predatory feeling for me.
    Are they beautiful images? Yes. Just like Sally Mann’s images of her family. And Mona Kuhn’s images of her friends. And Mapplethorpe’s images of friends & lovers. The difference (for me) is that all these artists had a more intimate relationship with their subjects. Though at times it might start to feel uncomfortable, I always get a feeling of intimacy or equality? (for lack of a better word!) between the artist and the subject.
    It is almost as if it is not up to Mr. Sturges to express the individual’s budding sexuality. What does he know of this except as a voyeur?

    • @alison – I find the usage of the word ‘predator’ to be really interesting and evocative, and perhaps it reveals as much about the viewer of Sturges’s work as the word is intended to criticize Sturges. After all, one could make the argument that the very act of taking a photograph is predatory behavior- don’t think for a minute that Mapplethorpe wasn’t predatory in his pursuit of the imagery he wanted to make- collaborative predatory behavior, maybe- but still.

      I find it a bit peculiar that you’re OK with with the work of Mann, Mapplethorpe and Kuhn, but not with Sturges. Is it because Mann, Mapplethorpe and Kuhn aren’t perceived to be of the same ilk as Sturges because they’re either homosexual or female, or some grey zone between? Or is it because we now know- after the fact- that Sturges had a relationship with a minor? Does this suggest that context matters after all when we attempt to criticize a body of work? Why the perception that Sturges had no intimacy or equality with his subjects? Because he is male and older than his subjects, or because he had a relationship with a minor?

      In general, I dislike the subtext in the criticisms leveled against Sturges- mainly that he’s somehow a predatory pedophile- without a deeper examination, consideration or sensitivity to all of the myriad possibilities and realities that give rise to the photographs and our collective reaction to them – including the biases of we, the viewers. For me, expressing one’s discomfort isn’t enough.

      • @Matthew, I agree about making the argument that the very act of taking a photograph can be a predatory behavior. Something I think about every time I shoot.

        I do not disagree that Sturges may have a relationship with his subjects. He may be a great friend of the kids and/or parents. I really have no idea. I am talking about the relationship I can “see” in the work. The poses, the looks, the way so many of Sturges’ photos are shot~that is where I see this “predatory” gaze.
        I can not separate the artist from the art~I have known about Sturges for years, and I know he is an older male, so I know he has a different kind of relationship with his subjects than, say, Mapplethorpe (who, in my opinion, had a more equal relationship with his subjects because they were friends/lovers who were in the same age bracket). An older male (or female) usually will have an authority over a younger person because of how we socialize children. Teachers, parents, police officers, doctors. etc. are always older and generally considered an authority figure. Not an equal. So when so we start to question that relationship with the subject?

        And I am completely open to examining why I respond the way I do~I do see your point of male versus female (or homosexual, so less threatening to me?)
        Even before I was a mother, I felt a major discomfort with his imagery. Someone mentioned above that his work was “natural” and I feel the complete opposite. Maybe that is why I am uncomfortable? A male gaze directing a nude pubescent female?
        Not sure. Will think deeper on the subject. Thanks for provoking some deeper thought!

        • @alison,

          Mapplethorpe (who, in my opinion, had a more equal relationship with his subjects because they were friends/lovers who were in the same age bracket).

          If you read Patricia Morrisroe’s excellent biography on Robert Mapplethorpe, “Mapplethorpe” you might come to a different conclusion. Besides Patti Smith, Sam Wagstaff, his contemporaries and commisioned sittings it seems that photos of his “lovers” were frequently exploitative and denigrating. He got off on it, he was a sadist.

    • @alison, Older male gaze? It’s called an 8×10″ large format camera. Human subjects are portrayed much differently when shot with a view camera, often with a much more languid or still energy than they are with 6×6 Hasselblad like Mona Kuhn or with a digital SLR camera like this article’s author.

  10. Elizabeth,

    I can’t really address Jock Sturges work because I don’t really care about it. I do believe he has the permissions needed to legally take the photos or we wouldn’t be discussing it here, he would already be in jail.

    I do find it interesting that when you first saw the work that sent you on your quest it was in the context of a gallery show. You declared it, bordering on child pornography. But it was in a show, that you had to go see. At Aperture no less, the champions of photography. Then you take your feelings about that show and use the wild west of the internet to show that the artists work is no longer suitable.

    Elizabeth, you would probably be VERY surprised if your work ( which I really like by the way! ) was shown to a group of ordinary people, say a jury, who was deciding whether you were a fit parent or not. They might not care that it was “art”.

    Be careful about judging people.

    • @Victor John Penner, thanks for your comments here and below.

      It is true that I had a visceral reaction to the images in a gallery setting. But I myself wasn’t sure whether context should matter, simply that I wanted to examine the concept. It was Sturges himself who defined the question for me. In his words, control equals dignity and in order to ensure his models maintain control he stresses that he contacts them every time their image is going to be used in order to explain the context. This implies that it is important that the models know where the work will end up.

      So really my main question is: why is Mr. Sturges able to discuss context in light of books and shows but not in light of the internet? As far as me going on about the images ending up on sites that are specifically about arousal, it is more a question of whether he need be open with his younger models about the likelihood of this happening. This is because later on a model can no longer change her mind: once on the web there’s no taking it back, and at ten she may not fully understand this concept. That is what I am asking, not whether he is necessarily responsible for misuse (for lack of a better term) or not.

      Is all of this unimportant to the work? It very well could be. It may might that enough of the children who were photographed when the web was around have come of age and are able to speak in adult voices about the process and are comfortable with it. I would simply like to know where new media comes into play.

      Incidentally, I wanted to go on readily available information. What has been expressed in a public forum I feel is indicative of what an artist deems important enough to discuss, which is why I didn’t conduct an interview. I would apply the same criteria to Mann or Kuhn or myself. Not to mention the fact that this is an opinion piece, not journalism. One can take that for what it’s worth.

      Thanks again.

  11. Whenever a piece starts with the “but, now that I have children” trope, it’s a pretty good bet that what follows is going to be rubbish. I guess some folks think that their critical and moral apparatus lies dormant until they reproduce or something.

    Regarding your questioning why there were so few “heavy” or scarred people depicted, I took a gander at your website and it, too, doesn’t feature any scarred up fat chicks. Why is that?

    • @t1, the reason she doesn’t show any “heavy” or “scarred up fat chicks” is probably because she photographs her own children who happen to not be “heavy” or “scarred”. she is not taking photos of a variety of different girls and young women. although if you look carefully through her website you’ll see a picture of a small injury or “scar” on one of her daughters. also,it’s not that people’s critical and moral apparatus lies dormant until they reproduce,it’s that sometimes life changes such as parenthood can change the way one thinks about things.

  12. What? No comments regarding Sturges’ “relationship” with Ms. Montgomery and how his preference for underage partners impacts his work? Really? His dalliance with Ms Montgomery casts a shadow on his work. Sturges’ objections to others’ harsh view of his work is exactly that of a NAMBLA member.

    • @Bosco,
      His relationship to a 14 year old is certainly problematic. I don’t see much of a problem with the fact that he’s known and photographed his current wife since she was 11. So what. People grow up. She’s not 11 anymore.
      Even though he has had a relationship with an underage girl I don’t think it has been established that he has a preference for underage partners.

      I think what Sturges’ work is definitely problematic but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I also don’t think we should worry that much about whether or not pedophiles get aroused by Sturges’ work. They probably do. However as a society we have to protect children from the actions of pedophiles, not their thoughts.
      Then question then is whether or not Sturges’ models feel sexually exploited by his photographs. From what I hear they do not. In fact many of them let him photograph them for many years up to an age where they’re certainly capable of making their own decisions.

  13. I wonder how many man-hours have been spent debating whether the dude is a creep or not, and I also wonder if this is a good use of one’s time.

    • @craig, Amen!

  14. I think it’s clear that Ms. Fleming’s piece struck a serious nerve, which is often the point of good, critical writing. Given that Elizabeth quoted me at the beginning of her article, it seems appropriate that I chime in at this juncture. I can assure everyone that our reactions to the photographs were visceral and deep, and that we thought carefully about how to discuss those impressions with the public.

    Mr. Sturges has relied, seemingly, on a rabid set of defenders for many years, all of whom take pleasure in looking at photographs of naked, under-aged girls. And to suggest to this legion of fans that it is not OK to look at such photographs is obviously a threatening endeavor. No one likes to be judged.

    The reality is that these photographs are very sexually charged. To deny that is to put one’s head in the sand. If it’s true that Mr. Sturges has had sexual relations with a 14 year old girl, and then married a former child model, then I find it implausible to suggest that he has no sexual interest in his subjects. Clearly, he’s been able to continue making his work, and he’s been very successful. But that in and of itself does not ratify the value of the work.

    I find it interesting that no one has bothered to discuss the most cogent argument in Elizabeth’s piece: what does Mr Sturges think of the fact that his photographs are now flying around the Internet, beyond the realm of anyone’s control. Does it change their impact on culture now that they can so easily be appropriated by predators?

    • @Jonathan Blaustein,

      I don’t think that it is a “cogent argument”.

      It feels like you and Elizabeth both have your opinion on his work and I completely support your right to that opinion.

      My question is why would the work be more or less, right or wrong, good or bad if it can only be seen in a gallery or if it is seen by a wider audience online? How does that change anything?

      Elizabeth has an opinion, but is baiting an argument about the work using the www. as the fall guy.

      You both find the work and the “artist” a creep/y. You can stand by that without some end around argument. I would respect you more for it.

    • @Jonathan Blaustein,

      “I think it’s clear that Ms. Fleming’s piece struck a serious nerve, which is often the point of good, critical writing.”

      Not always, often that nerve is struck by poor, slanted writing on an important subject.

      “ Given that Elizabeth quoted me at the beginning of her article, it seems appropriate that I chime in at this juncture.”

      I really wish you hadn’t. Your writing is worse than hers.

      “ I can assure everyone that our reactions to the photographs were visceral and deep, and that we thought carefully about how to discuss those impressions with the public.
      Mr. Sturges has relied, seemingly, on a rabid set of defenders for many years, all of whom take pleasure in looking at photographs of naked, under-aged girls.”

      Ok, careful here son. You’re saying that all of Jock Sturges defenders are people who take PLEASURE in looking at naked, under age girls. Have you considered how many people might be defending him, because it is his right to create the art he wants? I would also like to see where you got the information that Jock is relying on these people.

      “ And to suggest to this legion of fans that it is not OK to look at such photographs is obviously a threatening endeavor. No one likes to be judged.”

      Again, you make it sound like they are all predators. How slanted. I can see why you and Elizabeth are friends.

      “The reality is that these photographs are very sexually charged.”

      No. These photographs are very sexually charged to YOU.
      Do not tell us how we feel about a photograph when we see it.
      It is what people know about themselves inside, that makes them afraid.

      “To deny that is to put one’s head in the sand.”

      This is such a stupid statement; it’s not even worth arguing.

      “ If it’s true that Mr. Sturges has had sexual relations with a 14 year old girl, and then married a former child model, then I find it implausible to suggest that he has no sexual interest in his subjects.”

      Well, I’m glad you find it implausible. I’m sure you came to this conclusion with a lot deductive reasoning, and years of psychology work in the field.

      “Clearly, he’s been able to continue making his work, and he’s been very successful. But that in and of itself does not ratify the value of the work.”

      It’s not supposed to ratify it. That is a moot point.

      “I find it interesting that no one has bothered to discuss the most cogent argument in Elizabeth’s piece: what does Mr Sturges think of the fact that his photographs are now flying around the Internet, beyond the realm of anyone’s control.”

      Good question. Did she ask him? Did she try and contact him, or his agent? Ohhh….

      “Does it change their impact on culture now that they can so easily be appropriated by predators?”

      Please describe to me in detail, these predators, around the world, who have been waiting for years to see Jock Sturges pictures online. These pedophiles who can afford a dial up connection, but not one of his books. Does this make them more…predatory? Absurd. Absurd!

    • @Jonathan Blaustein,
      I think equating Sturges’ defenders with his works’ admirers is not right. I think implying that his works’ admirers are all pedophiles is just distasteful.

      Personally I’m not a fan of his work at all yet I would (cautiously) defend it against attacks such as yours. I think it’s safe to say that some of Sturges’ photographic interest lies in aspects of his subjects’ sexuality. That does not mean that he necessarily has a sexual interest in the girls he photographs. It may be so but we don’t know that. Has any subject ever come forth accusing him from making passes at them during a photoshoot?

      As for Elizabeth’s argument about the pictures being on the internet, I think it’s mostly bogus. Yes, there are probably pedophiles who masturbate to Sturges’ pictures. There are also pedophiles who masturbate to their memories of seeing little naked children bathing at the beach. There possibly are creeps being turned on by the kid pictures on Elizabeth Fleming’s website. The point is that we can’t control or prevent what goes on in sick people’s minds and we shouldn’t base our decisions on it.
      The second argument Fleming is making is about the pictures being on the internet and that the subjects can therefore no longer control who sees them in case they are embarassed or feel uncomfortable about them later on. But the same goes for the half-naked child on Elizabeth Fleming’s website. Even if it is her own child (I assume it is) she’s making the decision for her/him.

      My personal feelings about Sturges’ work are mixed. I don’t think the problem with it is that it turns on pedophiles, I think the problem with the work is that it potentially turns on perfectly normal people. That’s what’s making everyone uncomfortable.

      • @John., i also feel mixed about seeing sturges’ work.i remember feeling so awkward and gawked at by men when i was that age. of course the photos are beautiful. no one should deny that. but the problem that i am having with them is the age.i feel that parents have the responsibily for their underage children not to allow them to get into situations that might be uncomfortable or what they feel is’s so funny to me that there was such an uproar about those annie leibovitz photos of then 15 year old miley cyrus which didn’t show anything.yet these totally nude photos of underage children are supposed to be accepted without controversy?i fully believe that artists be able to express themselves but wouldn’t the photos be just as beautiful with some sort of something covering certain”parts”? or by using 18 year olds?i think the point that elizabeth made about the internet is a justified one. it’s one thing when the photos are shown in limited capacity and the models have a say. it’s another when they’re out of the control of the artist and the subjects. and the reason that people are so uncomfortable with these pictures and others work is because of our overly sexualized society.of course people see them as other than natural and innocent.we are surrounded by “sex sells” every where and all the time. it is a shame but also is a the mother of 3 young girls i think that my daughter’s and my friends children’s bodies are beautiful. would i allow them to be photograhed naked for all the world to see?in this day and age? HELL NO!

        • @lilly,

          I’m fairly apathetic about the pictures, but I laud his ability to make seemingly reasonable people lose their senses when they can’t tell if a naked person is magic number 18 or not, without any sort of pornographic content required… now that’s great art.

          Why should Mr. Sturges fit into the box society has carved out for itself? Especially one that seems to cause much misery these days?

    • @Jonathan Blaustein,
      I myself have seen Sturges black and white stuff as a black and white film photographer (myself) would…and have never felt any kind of “sexual charge” but have viewed them as tonally pretty black and white photo prints.
      “The reality is that these photographs are very sexually charged. To deny that is to put one’s head in the sand.”
      I may have been acused of having my head up my ass but not in the sand (well I do live in a state with beaches though!)

  15. Some great points are made here, both in the article and the comments. Did I miss the discussion about consent of the parents? Has he had to defend himself against any claims from his photo subjects who were under age at the time?

    Also – does anyone feel as though the art world or humanity in general would be better off if these photos disappeared? I think that would be a more interesting discussion. Personally, I think they are certainly controversial but equally as beautiful. BTW – has anyone seen the documentary on Sturges: “Live of Beauty and Grace”?

  16. Mr. Penner,

    It’s disingenuous to suggest that that the Internet changes nothing. The ability to appropriate work from the Internet is beyond easy, but to do so in a gallery setting would require far more effort. So the smaller audience buffered the work from a larger and perhaps more dangerous group of people.

    But you’re right…whether or not Mr. Sturges cares about Global pedos getting off on his work is somewhat irrelevant, as he believes that there is nothing wrong with the work to begin with.

    I believe that Ms. Fleming and I were challenging the underlying assertion of moral relativity that has protected this work for decades. People often compare it to Mr. Mapplethorpe’s work, as certain homosexual acts are still deemed illegal in certain locales. But thankfully, gay “culture” now has more latitude than at any previous time. (If not yet the appropriate legal standing…)

    The reality is that Mr. Mapplethorpe’s photos were more transgressive culturally, but also were a representation of consenting adults. Mr Sturges photographs children. That is an inherent and highly overlooked difference. Mr Mapplethorpe was defending his right to be gay, to a large degree. Is Mr. Sturges willing to suggest that our laws around statutory rape are too stringent? I’d “respect him more” if he were honest about his proclivities.

    Why are Mr Sturges’ defenders not arguing about the “morality” about hanging out with sexualized, naked kids. It’s always about the pictures, never the act that the photographs depict.


    • @Jonathan Blaustein, Has there been any legal or moral accusations levied by his underaged subjects or their parents? This would make a difference to me when making judgments like those discussed here.

      Regarding the internet’s impact: it’s much harder being a photographer these days especially if the intent is to limit viewership to a select group of art lovers.Yet, can we hold Sturges responsible for new modes of distribution?

      I’m also curious, does Sturges continue shooting underage subjects, if so, does he guarantee they won’t be distributed over the net? I’m certain he’s no longer all that naive.

      Agreed, the Mappelthorpe comparisons aren’t relevant.

    • @Jonathan Blaustein,

      I am not trying to be disingenuous, but the argument suggests that someone would feel that the work is OK in a gallery but not OK online. That a collector buying a photo in a gallery is OK, but a person viewing the same image online is a “pedo”. If it is wrong it is wrong regardless of context.

      • @Victor John Penner, I agree even though I think context does play a role. I’m thinking more about the subjects viewpoint regarding distribution; this I know matters.

        • @Bruce DeBoer,

          I would agree with you, how could a child give consent? Their parents give it. Scary.

          I do agree about context, and I am actually fascinated by it.

          If Joel Peter Witkin was not a celebrated artist and was pulled over while driving in his car one day, and a shoebox of his photos were found in the trunk….

          • @Victor John Penner,
            I agree with you that it’s unfair to allow the gallery goer a higher authority in viewing the work than an e-viewer. That’s too simplistic, and certainly impractical.

            But the more interesting question is how the potential of a new planetary viwership changes the artist’s role and responsibility. Having just had my own work go viral, I must say it’s an important consideration.

            And perhaps if one transports the beginning of Sturges career to 2010, he might approach things differently. I wonder.

            Re: parental consent, I find myself thinking of that Balloon boy in Denver the other year. His parents thought that was a good idea…

            And while I might question the validity of the pictures, I’ll accept that the work gets people talking about art, which has a sort of inherent value in and of itself.

            • @Jonathan Blaustein,
              I would say that these are all interesting questions, none of which were answered, and only one of which was asked in the article written by Ms. Fleming. Using a person like Mr. Sturges is a great way to get the conversation going, but I came away from her article feeling like she had nothing but disgust for the man and his work. That’s fair enough, and it was well-written in that respect…just not very interesting.

        • @Bruce DeBoer, wanted to say you raise some great points. I’ve tried to answer most of the issues you raise elsewhere; I appreciate you adding to the discussion.

  17. Mr. Blaustein,

    Earlier you wrote: “We both agreed that even in a world of moral relativity, these images transgressed some basic taboo, and were little more than criminality masquerading as art.”

    If so, then you both should be talking to a district attorney somewhere, not debating the artistic merits of the pieces and whether or not Mr. Sturges doesn’t take enough photographs of fat, scarred up people.

  18. I am always surprised to read how people like Elizabeth Fleming condemn nudity, sexuality, and even adolescent erotism, while we all can watch movies or play games where people are killed ans tortured by heros and regular people with little or no moral reaction. It is totally disgusting to me that we can accept war much easier than sex. There is something deeply wrong in there.
    Besides that, Elizabeth Fleming is a rather mediocre photographer that spends too much time trying to flatten her path to success by eliminating what se belives is a strong competitor. Mrs. Fleming. You don’t play the same league, just move aside, please.

    • @Carlos, i didn’t hear ms fleming as condeming nudity or sexuality. she was merely giving her OPINION. why is it so threatening to think about what she has to say.also, why the attack on her work? she is a wonderful photographer whose work is origional, haunting and beautiful. her photos tell stories if you care to look deeply.her work is very different than mr. sturges. apples and oranges!

  19. The issues discussed regarding Mr. Sturges work is not dissimilar to events that erupted over photographer Bill Henson ( here in Australia, and led to one of his exhibitions being forcibly removed by Police.

    They both share the same ‘fascination’ with young kids/teens, and I use that word in the sense that it is the primary driving force that brings them as photographers to their subject of interest, which in and of itself is notable, but additionally is subjective in one and all of us, and dependent of the fine line of our own thoughts and desires.

    The subjects themselves may have differing views of the photographs as they age, but the images are not subject to any change.

    I’ve heard it said by the author of ‘Pornland’, who has done considerable study on the subject of those who are seeking out porn in ever-increasing, highly disturbing content, that the addiction is of growing concern to society as a whole, but especially to young people, as boundaries are changing. And with easy distribution(the porn industry was innovative in web-based development), the images are everywhere and often forever.

    Mr. Sturges would certainly not define his work to be of that genre, but it’s in that grand arena for viewing.
    I’m glad it’s not my work.

  20. There is nothing wrong with nudity. There is nothing wrong with adolescent sensual images. There is nothing wrong until something wrong is done. This society is going ultra puritan. Afraid of their bodies, afraid of nature. People would rather show “Chainsaw” or “Halloween” to their kids than a naked boy or girl. Isn’t it simply crazy?
    I suppose some of those attacking Sturges are Death Penalty defenders. I suppose some of them would rather see an execution than a naked person in a sunset by the sea.
    Lets be claer: sex is not wrong. Nudity is not wrong. War and torture is wrong.

    • @Charles, so well said Charles, I just had to stop-by and endorse your statement!

  21. Jock Sturges, by his admission in the LA Times article by Pulitzer winner J.R. Moehringer, had a sexual relationship with a 14 year old girl when he was 28. He is a pedophile. By his admission. I am wondering if this means anything to those defenders of his work? I understand the adage “Trust the art, not the artist” but I can make an exception for Mr. Sturges. His pathology informs his “art” and cannot be denied…except by those who refuse to see.

  22. What about those obscene children beauty contests where 5 yo kids are dressed likes whores in front of hundred of people, including their parents? THAT is really disgusting. That is pedophile, and should be illegal.

    • @Charles, i totally agree! child abuse! as an adult who from a very young age was put into a “box” and had to “perform” like a wind up doll i think those child pagents are horrible and should be illegal!

  23. Like butter and bacon, nudity always makes it better. Nudity is an easy ingredient to add – and judging by the comments here – never fails to stimulate.

    If photographers struggle (see above) with how a photograph goes out in the world and is “contextualized”, imagine how clueless most of our subjects are to the power we wield with a single image. If photographers and photo editors spend educated lifetimes trying to understand the power of an image – how can a subject, naked or not, ever really understand what rights they are giving up?

    The flipside, of course, is that decisions have to be made. Art has to be free. We do have to test the boundaries and push through. As a father of two very young boys I photograph daily and blog about, I confront the issue everyday. I think every single time I post about how my sons will read the images both now and in the future. Their privacy, and my wife’s is paramount. My criteria is first – no frontal nudity. It is like butter and bacon to me. Easy to add, but more challenging, and in my case, more respectful to avoid. To say nothing of having high cholesterol (hereditary).

    I have told every single subject I have photographed at one point during our shooting that all we are doing is putting love out in the world. When I edit, the same criteria applies. It is subjective, of course – still we need a reason for what we are doing and that is mine.

    I would imagine Jock Sturges certainly feels like he is putting love out in the world and I am fine with that. I am not so fine with the privacy of all of his subjects that he owns and exploits. It is hard to deny the beauty of his images. Less hard to have much sympathy that he has had to spend a lifetime defending them. The artist assumes a huge responsibility once they decide to put images out in the world, in whatever form. That is the deal.

  24. We know Mr Sturges personally, we are models of his and parents of some of his models. I would like to set several things straight. After reading this article I can assure you that about 10% of Ms. Fleming says is correct and about 90% of what Jock is quoted as saying is truly how things are.

    In regard to the claim of a former model and a sexual encounter forty years ago, I have no direct knowledge. I will say that I have never witnessed Jock take an inappropriate interest in any model. Neither has anyone told me any story about him that gives me concern. This is the first time I have ever heard of this story and given how much of this article is badly off the mark, I have little confidence in its validity.

    As naturiste parents we are extremely aware when it comes to pedophiles. I have personally been involved in ejecting individuals from our community that crossed the line. This standard is very low to reach. Too much time talking with the children and your gone. We are not ignorant people, most are well educated and many are well off. In France there are hundreds of children present and we protect them all as if they were our own. It is a family community.

    The context in which he works is completely asexual and involves a variety of ages and both genders. Yes, he shoots more girls than boys, but that is his choice and it is a very common choice amongst artists. The female form has always been the preferred choice. I will also add that publishers and the consumer also have a vote in the work that is exhibited. Jock’s works are not sexual. They are plain and direct portraits of the talent as they are. Many are young women and they pose freely because they want to. As a parent we allow this because it is natural and we are all beautiful in our natural God given state. Sexualization is what the media has done to our young women. Does Ms Fleming not own a TV? If Jock’s work disappeared tomorrow, would the internet, child porn and MTV all vanish into a void? Who is really threatening our young women?

    Since when is the artist responsible for the perverse abuses of others over the internet? The availability of his work on the internet should have been a story of abuse of an artists work and the theft of his artistic property. Jock does takes legal action against anyone he discovers misusing his work. If Ms Fleming is concerned, she should report these abuses to Mr Sturges, so that legal action can be taken. Ms Fleming could have made some effort to talk to Jock, the models, the parents and produced a balanced article. This is a grade school essay at best.

    I have suspicions about Ms Felming’s motivations. Odd that she has a link to her work that has some rather disturbing images of children. What is with the featured bondage image of a child to a dresser? Jock would never take such a pornographic image. Is Ms Fleming trying to attract a certain kind of cliental to her work by tying herself to Mr Sturges name? Very odd combination of events.

    As for Jock, judge his work on its own merits. Do you like it or not? End of issue. It is what it depicts. It’s a human in it’s pure unadulterated form. No glam, no props, no effects. It is all of us in our youth. When we weren’t so damn prejudiced by life and its disappointments.

    • @Bob, Very nicely stated. Fleming has gall to draw attention to her own photo work, from this overly-wrought article and her accusatory manner. Her children are young, and she would do well to take a second and third thought before she posts these questionable images of them. She is entitled to her opinion, but must it be so tedious? If she really cared about the ethics, she would have contacted JS to get his thoughts, and she would have written this in an anonymous fashion.

    • @Bob,

      “What is with the featured bondage image of a child to a dresser?”

      That’s an image of a child playing. Twenty years ago no one but the most perverted would have associated that image with [a sexual reference to] bondage. Why have you made that association? Is it possible that it’s because the internet (or some other current media) has changed your thinking? This article raises that question and you have just proved that it’s a good one to be asking.

      • @Craig,

        ok, so it’s not a picture depicting a child in bondage. Its Christ on the cross. Now am I pure in your judgement? What, were you eight years old twenty years ago? The image is disturbing. Sexual is your connection. Children bound is unnatural. I bet if Jock produced that image you be stirring the pot. Let the images speak for themselves.

      • @Craig,
        ok, so it’s not a picture depicting a child in bondage. Its Christ on the cross. Now am I pure in your judgement? What, were you eight years old twenty years ago? The image is disturbing. Sexual is your connection. Children bound is unnatural. I bet if Jock produced that image you be stirring the pot. Let the images speak for themselves.

        • @Bob,

          You called the image pornographic. That is a clear sexual reference. Images do not speak for themselves. We pour meaning into them. You poured sexual bondage into Fleming’s innocent image of a child at play. That is the reason for this discussion.

          I was 28, 20 years ago. : )

          • @Craig, Yes, we pour some meaning into pictures, but I am leaning towards agreeing with Bob. Fleming has several portraits which tread a fine line, and they could very easily be interpreted as sexual and pornographic. While it’s true that all human beings are sensual, when photographing children, the photographer has an enormous responsibility and an even higher accountability to all involved, but especially to their children’s future. After all of this debate, it would sure be nice if Fleming spoke up for herself. I would like to hear her defend why her own pictures are any more pure or upright, when compared to Jock.

            • @Paul,

              (I’m not the Craig above, I’m lower case craig)

              “I would like to hear her defend why her own pictures are any more pure or upright, when compared to Jock.”

              Can’t help but wonder if perhaps thats why a rambling 3000 word essay on someone many had forgotten about, or never even knew existed, was written…

              • @craig, I agree with your hunch. In all of Fleming’s recent responses here, she did not speak about the nature of her own photos.

  25. Herein lies Jock Sturges’ unique genius (and the reason this self-indulgent ‘opinion’ piece totally misses the mark):

    His photographs are a mirror, revealing to the viewer his or her unquestioning complicity with society’s sexual mores.

    The discerning viewer of Sturges’ work acknowledges and accepts the invitation to self-awareness, delighting in the unique construct devised by the artist (nay, the bodhisattva!).

    The ignorant viewer cannot see through the surface to the provocative depth and, instead, wonders if her innocent babies are at risk or what the imagery may portend for the community of pedophiles who, doubtless, have more content already at their disposal than they can possibly consume.

    If Sturges has actually committed a crime in the course of his work, that should be a matter of concern to Sturges, the local magistrate and the victim.

    The author of this blog post, while attempting to seem academic and insightful, has succeeded only in producing slanderous and meaningless Internet gossip and, in the process, pronounced herself a fool.

    • @Dave Getzschman,

      It’s interesting the reactions ones see to cognitive dissonance like the lengthy, very lengthy (3000 words!) attempts to rationalize something… in this case, one can only speculate on Ms. Fleming’s intentions, subconscious or overt.

      There’s not much to Mr. Sturges pictures. Simply people without clothes in natural settings. The dissonance occurs because people have become convinced (or trained, perhaps) that naked depictions of young people are pornographic. And yet these images don’t match any pornography, and no subject (or their parents) appears to have ever complained.

      Therefore, some people must invent a rationalization to match the fact (non pornographic images of young people) to the belief (images of naked young people are wrong).

      Kind of funny, actually. What a bunch of wasted time.

      • @craig,
        +1 Craig

        “Kind of funny, actually. What a bunch of wasted time.”
        European naturism is misunderstood by the masses…

  26. in this article: “There is a difference between someone looking at a picture in a “neutral” environment versus on a site amidst images whose sole purpose is to arouse.”

    i disagree with this statement written..because..

    who is to say a gallery or book or anywhere can be considered a “neutral” environment…

    and then saying that a website, wether it be pornographic or fine art images be any more or less “neutral” environment..

  27. Here is the LA Times article:

    From the article:

    “But in one case, Sturges’ family relationship with his young models went a step further. When he was 28 he conducted a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old named Jennifer Montgomery.

    At the time, she was a New England boarding school student; he was her dorm counselor. They became intimate when he began using her as a model and remained so for years.

    Today, Montgomery is 36 years old, a filmmaker living in Brooklyn, N.Y.. She says the episode with Sturges left her “damaged,” but she dealt with that by making a quasi-documentary in 1995 called “Art for Teachers of Children,” in which she depicts Sturges as equal parts stupid, sleazy and insincere, a man who used photography to get a young, chubby, confused girl to undress.

    “I’m not a philanderer,” he says. “I’ve had four relationships in my life. That’s it. Period. She was the second. And it was at a point in time when I was getting divorced from my wife. I was vulnerable and making bad decisions. That’s obviously embarrassing now, but in light of my regard for her intelligence and the stature of her intellect–I’m human.”

    Really, what Sturges has done is no different then the scout master, the little league coach, or the priest. His method was diabolical to the extent that he has been given uber-credibility by the oh-so-sophisticated fine art world. His critics are seen as prudes, or perverse.

    So the question is: Does knowing that Sturges as a 28 year old had a sexual relationship with a 14 year old affect how we see his work? For some, the answer is yes.

    Photographers photograph what they are interested in…many to the point of obsession. Newton had a penchant for tall statuesque cigarette smoking naked women. They were adults of course. Christenberry has his Alabama barns. Eugene Smith’s obsession at one point was Pittsburgh from his bedroom window. There is an abandoned house near where I am that I have photographed countless times over the last 20 years. The point is obvious: we reveal ourselves with our subjects. Especially those that we photograph again and again and again and again.

    • @Bosco,

      I’m not entirely certain of the relevance of his young affair. I guess it’s some background, but it only clouds the perceptions of people who care. After all, there are many places in the world where such things are commonplace.

      If anything, the controversy calls attention to the invention of what an ‘adult’ is. For example, if a photograph is taken on the day before a young person turns 18, is that somehow magically different than on the next day when they are 18? I bet you’ll write a whole paragraph of speculation and circular logic on why this is relevant.

      I think the most thoughtful comment out of this whole thread is the earlier poster who said it bothers people that are turned on by the images. The bodies presented remind me of my first lovers as a young man, but I wouldn’t say I’m ‘turned on’ by it.

      Funny the histrionics some people will go through to justify their confused outrage.

      • @craig,

        -After all, there are many places in the world where such things are commonplace-

        A typical response from a supporter. By any reasonable standard a 14-year-old is not able to consent to nor grasp the complexity of engaging in sex with a 28 year-old man.

        -Funny the histrionics some people will go through to justify their confused outrage-

        I am not confused or outraged.

        • @Bosco,

          Unfortunately for your silly declarations (way to ignore the other parts of my post), not only does the former affairess defend Sturges, but even grew up to make a film about the whole thing that pretty much refutes what you just said. Or, at the very least, it refutes your black and white view of the matter.

          You seem pretty confused and ignoring things that don’t fit within your narrow mindset. It’s not helping your case…whatever that case is. What are you hoping to accomplish?

          • @craig,

            (way to ignore the other parts of my post)

            You posted nothing that is relevant.

            In the real world there are some things that are easy to understand. One is that a 28 year old man engaging in sex with a 14 year old girl is a crime.

            You are very keen on defending this sort of behavior…to what end?

            No matter. I am simply adding some interesting detail to the legacy of Mr Sturges. So many very sophisticated folks view him as (I guess) just a guy that likes to photography nubile children provocatively.
            The fact that he engaged in sex with a child I think adds an important element to his life. If you don’t think so, fine. :)

            Peace baby.

            • @Bosco,

              lol… I hadn’t even heard of the guy before this thread. I’m not sure you add anything to his ‘legacy’ that the very person in question hasn’t already with her film(!) and numerous interviews.

              Way to imply I’m a pedophile though. You’re a man of brilliant intellect my friend.

              Ah, I think I’ve been trolled…

              • @craig,

                Oops…my intent was not to imply anything at all about you, my apologies.

                Jock Sturges is a well known photographer. I am a photographer interested in photography in general and what compels us to make the sort of work we do. I happen to think that Sturges is fascinating, but even more so is the legion of supporters that are never swayed to see him as anything but a gifted photographer. We are all much more then photographers, and people in the public sphere, as Sturges is, always leave clues about themselves.

                Anyway, now you know a little about Mr Sturges ;)

                • @Bosco, you should verify: I am not sure of what you think words like “crime” or “reasonable” mean but I am pretty sure whatever you think is a personal opinion, just. Not something written in stone by some god or another. I am sure you’ll be relieved to learn that in at least 4 US states, the legal age of consent is 14, on plenty of others it’s 16. Funny enough, the age of criminal responsability starts in some states at 7, a lot of others between 10 and 12, and in the case of federal crimes, it’s 10. So if you are 14, you’re responsible enough to be sent to prison, but can’t legally decide to have sex.

    • @Bosco,

      “Still, she doesn’t think he should be prosecuted, because their relationship was “consensual.” And she has only high praise for the luscious quality of his prints.”
      – LA Times, same article
      That sounds a little more complex than how you’re presenting it, which (I can tell you personally) is something one might understand if they’ve ever been a victim in a similar situation.

      • @Mark,

        I did a little searching and found this, some quotes from a Q&A session when her film about their affair came out.

        “”He didn’t rape me. But the law is a blunt instrument, that sets an age of consent–and that’s a fiction. There’s partial consent. There’s confusion. There’s consent without fully knowing the consequences. That can happen at any age… There were exploitive aspects to how he treated me, but I made this film to show just how gray the gray area gets…”

        So she testified in his defense… and then made this film, which portrays him so embarrassingly… yet doesn’t let herself off either. But it reserves clear and scathing condemnation for one party, and one alone: the US government, for blackmail, censorship, threats, and spying on its own citizens’ sex lives.”

        — And there you have it.

  28. With all due respect to everyone on both sides of this issue, I’m wondering why we are digging into the work of Jock Sturges now? Did something happen recently that I missed that is bringing his work and life into light again?
    I’ve always liked the tricky line his work seemed to walk, all the while feeling that we really were seeing an artist photograph the thing he was fascinated with, as stated so clearly by Bosco, above. But I’m just wondering if something has brought him to light again.

    • Really is was coming across the work-which I hadn’t thought about in a good long while-and having a new reaction to it now that I’m a mother and photographer, for better or for worse. I find it pertains to things that are continually on my mind in terms of exploitation, photographing children, etc. so I wanted to explore it all. Pretty boring explanation I know, but there you have it!

      • @Elizabeth Fleming, I think ultimately my take on this whole thing is that I would CLEARLY not want him babysitting my little girl – it’s a trust thing. And, perhaps he deserves to be jailed but that’s not my business; I’ll leave that to prosecutors and victims and victim’s champions.

        As an artist, however, I agree with Timothy – I feel that artists have always walked a thin line, turning over rocks or even hiding under them; this often causes outrage. I’m sure more than a few have been guilty of crimes against society. That said, I’m not sure what is being suggested here beyond outrage.

        Elizabeth, are you suggesting that we should no longer see beauty in his work? Should it be outlawed, banned or censored in any way?

  29. Sturges supporters typically fail to understand the nature of the sexual predator.
    I suppose that his skill as a photographer somehow is enough to exonerate him of any wrongdoing, as if photographers were exempt from suffering from what ails the rest of humanity. He can’t be a horrible person…just look at the pretty pictures! Sexual predators are people that have developed very specific methods in selecting their victims. I don’t have the time or the inclination to list the myriad case studies to support the obvious pathology exhibited by Sturges. Suffice it to say that everything written here in support of Sturges is typical and not surprising.

  30. Bosco writes: “Sturges supporters typically fail to understand the nature of the sexual predator. …Sexual predators are people that have developed very specific methods in selecting their victims.”

    When the Kodak Brownie camera became popular early in the 20th century there was an enormous outcry in the US because (to use your favorite word) ‘predatory’ men were going to beaches and photographing women in their neck-to-leg bathing suits because for the first time in human history, the shape of a woman’s torso, as it appeared in wet, clingy bathing outfits when the women emerged from the water, was available in public to be recorded for the ages. Seductive (for the time) visages of womens’ bodies were like manna from heaven for many men (and I daresay, women) of those more restrictive times. ‘Proper’ society was up in arms, editorial writers and mothers everywhere had a field day clamoring for the banishment of the new device and the “camera fiends” who wielded it.

    By this analysis, George Eastman (as the inventor of the Brownie camera and the founder of Kodak) aided and abetted sexual predators and therefore perhaps all the profits earned by eastman kodak should have been confiscated and the company shut down shortly after the Brownie camera became widely used. A stretch? Maybe, but not as much a stretch as some of the arguments implying that Jock is a ‘sexual predator’. Puh-leeze.

    Very specific methods indeed. Were those ‘canera fiends’ sexual predators? Perhaps, though from today’s perspective we might view this as a silly notion. Which is why Jock’s critics are all here in the US. Even though many, perhaps most of his images are made in Europe, isn’t it odd that he has no critics in Europe? Does that mean Europe tolerates sexual predation? Or could it be that Americans have their heads up their collective ass?

    Really, the man does what he does and it bothers you. Those are the only facts we know of. He does what he does. That’s one fact. It bothers you. That’s another fact. Oh yes, one more fact. Not one of his suubjects or their parents have ever accused him of any wrongdoing. Reach your own conclusion.

  31. Ms. Fleming and her supporters are basically trying to rationalize their own disapproval of Sturges’s work. That they are doing so primarily through innuendo and intimidation (e.g., under-the-table accusations of pedophilia) against both Sturges and those of us who don’t share their rather Puritanical views is reprehensible.

    When any government, or any church for that matter,
    undertakes to say to its subjects, This you may not read,
    this you may not see, this you are forbidden to know,
    the end result is tyranny and oppression,
    no matter how holy the motives.
    — Robert A. Heinlein

    I have had my fill and then some of self-appointed busy-bodies and wanna-be commissars preying upon people’ s fears in order to push their repressive agendas.

  32. Sorry, but I can only perceive misplaced moral judgements in the text and in some of the comments. They are not acceptable, innocent opinions but a proposal for censorship based on subjective judgment, and the major point (the use of Sturges pics by so-called “predators”) is ridiculous. Imagine someone who jerks off to Margaret Thatcher pictures. Should the photographers who took these images held responsible? And responsible of what, by the way? I know at least of two ocurrences, and several similar others of perfectly sane males and females with a fixation with public personae.

    Your text made me think of the granny that was detained by the police because she took a picture of her grandaughter nude, of the father processed for taking a picture of his two daughters jumping on the bed half naked, look at this

    Seems the US has found a new taboo in children nudity and is enforcing it beyond reason. It’s preposterous but not too strange considering that in some states consenting adults who engage in sodomy can be sent to jail. In the 21st century…

    Sturges was in fact prosecuted by the FBI who “stole” his negs and equipment and retained them for ages, until a court decided he was not a delinquent. He was fortunate in that he could afford sound legal assistance. The couple of Arizona had to pay US $ 75.000 to defend themselves against an absurd accusation.

    A lot of harm done to a lot of people for no reason, in the name of prudishness and subjective moral values.

    @Jonathan Blaustein: IMHO you need to readjust your evaluation of what a child and a women are. A fully sexually developed women is just that, a woman, no matter how old she is. For your information, age of consent starts in Spain, from where I am writing, at 13 years. In most of Europe it is set around 13/14 years. Sturges had an affair with one of his models when she was 14 and he 28, so what? She consented, he seduced her, she was hurt, he thinks he behaved like an idiot, that sums up plenty of failed relationships I know.

    It would do a lot of good to a lot of people if those moralist that are scandalised by perfectly innocent pictures of nude people -or nude kids- stopped trying to impose their beliefs on the rest of us. Your problem, the emotions that these images produce on you, is easy to solve: just stop looking at them. And yes, images of naked people sometimes can produce sexual arousal, it’s a normal reaction of your psiche, what’s the big deal?

  33. Bosco seems to be one of the few respondents here who understands the issue. When all the meaningless babble offered up by his defenders is stripped away, Ms Fleming’s original question remains: “how does Mr Sturges’ known personal history change one’s understanding and interpretation of his motives in creating his art?”

    Gordon (#31), I have no idea whether the man is a “pedophile”. Photographing nude children doesn’t automatically make one a pedophile, in my opinion. But Sturges has admitted publicly in the quoted newspaper article to having had a sexual affair, at age 28, with a 14 year old girl. If this story is accurate and true, he’s confessed to statutory rape; so there’s nothing “under-the-table” about calling him, at least, a statutory rapist. If pedophilia depends on “context”, then that act is one very large chunk of the stuff.

    And yes, Rich (#30), rape “bothers” me. I have a 14-year-old daughter who is more mentally mature than many young women her age, and she certainly couldn’t give a meaningful “consent” to sex with a man twice her age. And you can bet that I’d take a keen and vigorous interest in any 28-year-old man who seemed inordinately interested in her. There are some bright lines that should stay bright; this is one of them.

    As for Sturges’ “excuse”? It comes down to his need, and her availability: “…it was at a point in time when I was getting divorced from my wife. I was vulnerable and making bad decisions.” Yes, sexually using a 14-year-old is a very “bad decision” indeed—especially for his victim. And if a 28-year-old man would turn to a 14-year-old girl to soothe his feelings of “vulnerability”, it’s little wonder his marriage was in trouble.

    Dismissing the “creepiness” factor by equating Sturges’ work with that of Sally Mann, or Elizabeth Fleming, requires a willful suspension of common sense. Why their work differs from his is something that most people, other than Sturges’ apologists, just “get” intuitively, without elaboration. The word “creepy” is really all you need. And Carlos (#18), if all you can bring to this discussion is the remark that Fleming’s work is “mediocre”, then you don’t have much to offer here. That’s schoolyard stuff, hombre.

    This is not about Puritanism; or the beauty of the unclothed human form; or about any of the other particles of smoke lofted by Sturges’ defenders to wave off precisely the questions Elizabeth has raised. It’s about an adult man exerting power over an underage (not 17 yrs and 364 days, either) girl for his sexual gratification; and about what such a personal history might reveal about his motivations and perspectives in creating his art.

    Sturges’ work is undeniably beautiful. But once his personal history is revealed, the work is tainted.

    • @Michael Sebastian,

      Except that the 14 y/o in question grew up to make a film about the whole thing basically stating they were both self absorbed, naive and that manipulated each other (to paraphrase). Then she defended him at his trial after she herself was blackmailed by the FBI in their perverse quest for a conviction that no one else seemed to care about.

      Hardly black and white now is it? Is it ever? It’s worth noting his subjects and their parents are often the first to defend the work. With that simple fact, how can anyone complain without projecting their own subjective irrelevant beliefs onto the matter?

      I agree with Gordon that it is reprehensible to suggest that anyone who does not condemn these photographs must be child rapists. How loathsome, how offensive.

      • @craig, It doesn’t really matter. All the responsibility was his—as the adult—not to go where he shouldn’t have gone. There’s a reason the law forbids it; such a relationship can’t ever be truly consensual. That he broke the law, at least, is black-and-white. And as Bosco pointed out, such victims’ reactions are not uncommon. It’s almost like a variant of Stockholm Syndrome.

        I haven’t condemned the photographs, nor called him a pedophile. I have said that knowledge of his history alters the way one views them.

        • @Michael Sebastian,

          That’s a circular argument, saying something is bad because the law forbids it, and the law forbids it because it is bad.

          It is deeply disingenuous to accuse someone who has aged a great deal, made a film(!), defended under oath and in interviews of “stockholm syndrome” because the two people involved would dispute your allegations.

          In fact, Stockholm syndrome is not even remotely that.

          Either way its irrelevant to the works, but for some reason, people opposed to the works seem to fixate on this irrational illogic. I wonder why.

    • @Michael Sebastian, THANK YOU! Thank goodness someone seems to have the maturity and intelligence to respond to Elizabeth’s essay in a grown-up manner instead of making themselves feel self-righteous by behaving like a name-calling child. Your thoughtful insight is seriously appreciated after reading through so many obnoxious attacks.

      • @Annie, @Michael Sebastian, thanks to both of you. The support is appreciated!

  34. Very interesting discussion. I have to agree with Alison regarding the photographs of Elizabeth Flemming herself. I’m not sure how her work can be interpreted as obscene or exploitive by any stretch of the imagination…except perhaps by those looking to conduct a witchhunt or to try to make an example out of her. As a father with three daughters, I see innocence and playfulness exhibited in her photos…scenarios captured that any person with children immediately understands and can relate to. I realize that photography often involves inventing narratives for images which we have no contextual information about, but to force a narrative on her work that simply is not there is a bit ridiculous. Incidentally, I don’t think Flemming is guilty of this with regards to Sturges works…there are clearly sexualized and objectified subjects in some of his photography. This doesn’t mean I think it’s obscene or exploitive…I really don’t know without knowing the context of the photographs…but you’d have to be delusional to deny that there is a sexual component to his photographs.

    I don’t think anything that Flemming writes is particularly appalling…her points are well articulated, and they are frankly relevant topics to discuss. All that said, I think Flemming’s primary mistake in the article was to pose a question about re-contextualizing Sturges’ work in the digital age, and then devote most of her article to constructing an elaborate argument in support of only one side if the issue. In many ways the question was not a serious one because in the end this was an opinion piece…one that revealed more about Flemming’s own thoughts on this topic rather than on the broad controversy surrounding public access to this type of imagery in this day and age. Isn’t that what an op ed usually does anyway? The commenters below the article bring up relevant points from the opposite side of the spectrum…win-win, right? :)

    My two cents. Feel free to malign me. And Happy New Years!

    • @LB, thanks for this. I appreciate you seeing the piece in the way I intended it to be. To answer the question of not tackling the broader controversy, I try to elaborate on certain aspects of it in answer to some of the comments above so I won’t bore you with examining it more here, but certainly my elaboration doesn’t necessarily mean I’m not still coming down on one side of the issue in the end! As you say it’s an opinion piece, and I do find it interesting to hear others opinions in response. Happy New Years to you as well!

  35. We live in very dangerous times because of nut cases like this woman who want to censor anything they don’t like.

    There are lots of artists I don’t like, don’t get or don’t respect. That’s not a justification for censorship. Hey Elizabeth, I don’t like stupid pictures of kids — I vote they all be banned from the Internet. How does that feel? Any serious artist will respect creative freedom. Without it, we will all be silenced.

  36. Ms. Fleming’s critique resonates on so many levels. It’s worth noting that France has a tradition of protecting creators of so-called libertine works, in the spirit of intellectualism. The recent opening of the case against Roman Polanski comes to mind and begs comparison in the context of the argument against Sturges’ work.

    I don’t believe Ms. Fleming seeks to ban or censor Sturges’ photographs, only to highlight the problematic nature of his work especially in the internet age.

    The canon of Western art is filled with adult men who made objectifying images of girls and young women, and to argue whether it’s the viewer or the creator with a “dirty” mind is a moot point. For me it is more interesting to consider if we as humans can evolve sufficiently to view objectifying images of girls for what they are, and then move on to more interesting and stimulating subject matter.

  37. Quote: “If Sturges’ definition of dignity is synonymous with control, then dignity is stripped every time that girl’s image is propagated on websites far and wide, and once out there, there’s no taking it back.”


    How about asking him? Is there a quote from him that references this position?

    Seems like an editorial was written on the writer’s assumption. Certainly the writer supported her argument, but the premise is based on her own assumptions.

    Not so sure the bell that was rung and apparently to the writer, can’t be un-rung, actually rang.

    • @scott Rex Ely,

      Here’s the quote I was going off of: “They [the models] control their photographs because I don’t let them sign model releases. I urge them never to sign a model release for anybody unless they have been paid specifically to do a specific job on a contractual basis, for an advertising agency or something. Who knows how they’re going to change? I don’t want to ever be guilty of making assumptions about those changes. They might marry a Methodist minister from Minnesota and have a very conservative life. It’s not inconceivable that at some point in the future they might decide that these pictures embarrass them. That’s never happened to me, but the control, the power to decide whether that happens or not, shouldn’t be mine–it should be the kids’, and that’s where it stays. It creates a very complex life for me, I promise you. When I want to use a picture in a book, I have got to call foreign countries, find people, explain the context. My phone bills are astronomical sometimes.” From a 1994 interview with David Steinberg

      “It is how we feel about ourselves that our dignity stays intact…Naturists if anything have a stronger dignity than other people because they don’t have any shame in their character…you don’t care about the body in an important way…you have lost nothing in being seen naked.” Quote from a video outtake from the documentary Line of Beauty and Grace.

      What I take this to mean is that if a girl must be given control over her image it is because there is the potential for her to care later on about being seen naked. She has come to care about her body in an important way, and thus her dignity can be compromised by being seen naked.

  38. Honestly, did the writer, and I’m asking her right now, know that in 1994 that the internet would exist as it does today?

    • @scott Rex Ely, of course not. I am simply stating that given the control issue the discussion needs to be reframed and reconsidered in light of the changes.

      • @Elizabeth Fleming, I don’t see how you can use the straw-men argument, IE: This is what he said in 1994, so this must be what he thinks now posture, to support your positions. I also don’t think it’s fair to just mention “realignment” and leave it at what you prescribe to it without any data or verifiable arguments to support your conclusions of exactly what “realignment” would entail or is.
        I just see this exercise as a backdoor argument to present your grievances against someone who, not until you had your own children you had considered, to be notorious.

  39. Please excuse my writing. Here is a corrected version of my last sentence.
    I just see this exercise as a backdoor argument to present your grievances against someone who, until you had your own children had paid little attention to, now consider to be notorious. Thanks for your time.

  40. I want to thank the majority of readers for their insights into my piece. I’m going to bow out of the discussion now as I feel I’ve answered all I can and that in the end the article must stand on its own merits; to continue on with my comments runs the risk of becoming an unproductive exercise in parsing words. Cheers!

    • @Elizabeth Fleming,
      “…she should be able to engage in a nuanced discussion of the various questions.”

      Or not…

  41. Now that this winds down, I am confused, confounded, and glad for the Internet. I am confused that projected morality is for artist to debate on a blog for creativity and advice. Confounded that artist think that another artist’s work or personal life is a catalyst for the criminal minded, perverts, and the evil underground of the Internet. They do not need Jock, you, nude children, or the Internet for their depravity. Happy at age 49, to see such debates, blogs, and I had never heard of Jock Sturges or seen his work until now. Where have I been?

    Well, my two cents, and it is not to judge anyone, attack anyone, or to belittle anyone’s views. It is just my opinion that I want to through out into the cyber world to give one more side to the roundabout.

    The whole idea of self censorship or even altering creativity to be sensitive to the world at large is mind numbing and sad to me. The “art” I do not like, or photography that I think is dumb or offensive, is judged by not choosing to view it or to click on its page. Most nude photography, 99%, on the Internet these days is just stupid, even creepy sometimes, and it is a Billion dollar industry, what Photographers do is not the problem.

    To alter my work for a pill popping society that can not go to sleep, deal with their day, handle their child’s behavior, or create without a pill is like creative terrorism. So everyone please sit in your seat with your hands on your lap until we are safe at the gate. God forbid we upset someone and make them feel uncomfortable.

    A child that becomes an adult and feels as an adult that they should be ashamed of their nude body in a portrait at any time is not the fault of the artist. Shame should be placed on society for making a woman ashamed of her body. A fat girl’s anxiety about her nude body is her personal problem. Maybe Leonard Nimoy will photograph them.

    For the criminal minded or sexually criminal minded people, they will use for their pleasure nudity, any type of child photography, or underwear on a door knob for a fetish. Adult Americans will watch TV in Europe for commercials featuring nudity, while the Children do not even notice it. Their Parents are not demanding a Congressional hearing for such a normal showing of the human body. Nor or the artist being scolded and told to change their work for children, because the criminals are watching.

    I do not want to be viewed as a creepy criminal for viewing Jock’s photography, or see a gallery afraid to show his work. I do not want the Internet blocked any more than it is because perverts are using art for their criminal activity. They are making plenty of crap for it anyway, so beautiful work be damned, I hope not.

    • @Tim Frederick,
      well said!

  42. Pedophilia is not illegal. A person can be a pedophile and never act on it, and be fine.

    It’s what pedophiles do when they act on their impulses that often breaks the law.

    Sturges’ work is seen by some as art, and by others as porn. But Think about it: Americans are very prudish when it comes to nudity. What is seen as some as perfectly normal in Europe is a crime here that can get people put in prison for decades.

    Europeans, who are used to beaches where nudity is completely accepted and normal, laugh at Americans.

    The long and the short of it is this: there is nothing wrong with nudity. Even that of children. I took a video of my 1-year-old son in the bath because I thought it was cute. it was his first bath where he learned that splashing can be fun. This is something many parents have done.

    By some U.S. standards, that would be classified as child pornography! There is a disconnect here that needs to be fixed.

  43. Years ago, when I was in grad school, we took a day trip to a museum in Dothan, Al. One gallery in the museum had a warning about nude images on display, and cautioned parents. Surprisingly there was only one unremarkable ‘nude’ color photo of a 60’s type couple rolling around the grass. It really did not ‘show anything’ except some nude backsides.
    Then I walked into another gallery, that did not have any posted warnings of any kind and was confronted by Robert Heinecken’s 1970’s juxtaposed image of a Cambodian soldier, rifle slung over one shoulder and holding a severed head with tripping entrails in each hand.
    Like Heinecken, I had been a Marine Corps officer. I had served in Viet-Nam and totally understood and agreed with the anti-war sentiment of the image, and its juxtaposition to our consumer culture. However, I felt outrage that the Museum’s staff felt it had to protect children from joyous nudity, but not from bestial brutality.

  44. Dear Ms. Fleming,

    Weird, the nature of your own photographs seriously undermines your argument against Sturges. The debate that you seem to be having with yourself might also be had regarding your imagery.

    Since you are an artist (presumably) why not articulate your own vision instead of attacking another’s?

    Finally, may we know some intimate details from your own life with which to analyze and discredit you? It would help and maybe we could better understand your motives, something that, at the moment seem questionable.

  45. <>

    Ms. Fleming, check out Sturges’ book “Misty Dawn Portrait of a Muse”, you’ll see that Misty, who has been photographed by Mr. Surges for almost 30 years, has grown from a lanky adolescent to a very full-figured, DaVinci-esque woman. Sturges’ choices seem to be for the most part adolescent girls, however, if you browse any of his publications, i.e. “Radiant Identities”, “The Last Day of Summer”, “Notes”, et al, you’ll see many other images that show entire families–plump, balding fathers and matronly mothers alongside their nubile offspring. Perhaps the bulk of the images found though internet searches are of lithe adolescents, and let’s face it, they are more attractive to look at than portly middle-aged adults,*how many classical paintings out there depict hirsuit, craggy subjects in the nude?*

    As to how his models feel about their images on the ‘net, well, if any of them have objected in any way, I haven’t heard of it. Moreover, even in the days before the internet, anyone photographed for a publication should be made aware that once published, the images could end up anywhere. For the underage models, the awareness falls on their parents.

    Apparently this current hoopla now is brought up because of his personal history??? And why did Jennifer Montgomery wait as long as she did to bring it up? Those would be my questions.

  46. I’ve read a lot, though not all of the comments on Elizabeth’s questioning piece about the work of Jock Sturges. All I can say is that I have, for as long as I’ve been aware of his work, had a conflicted/problematic relationship with it… The images are beautiful to look at, and the people in the images are almost uniformly beautiful as well. I have no inherent problem with an artist who chooses to focus solely on the beautiful.

    I guess my ‘problem’ with Sturges’ work is the age/gender/power differential between the artist -and his gaze- and [the majority of] his subjects. Not that this is anything new in the realm of art, really…or in any realm, for that matter. But I’ve never found his ‘explanations,’ or his assurances that the work was ‘collaborative,’ or his suggestions that his subjects were his ‘equals,’ to be terribly satisfying or believable… (And if he himself was naked behind the camera while photographing nubile, naked young girls on the verge of puberty -of “psychological change”- well, I’m sorry, but that really is just creepy.)

    It seems obvious to me that there’s a world of difference between a mother –whether we’re talking about Elizabeth Fleming or Sallie Mann– photographing her own naked children, and a strange man (even if the man is ‘familiar’) photographing young boys and girls who are not his own. There just is; this seems indisputable to me.

    Which is not to say that Elizabeth’s or Sallie’s children might not be embarrassed later in life by the images that have been made of them as children, and that are circulating in the world in ways that were both intended and unintended. (And I don’t think this has anything to do with the internet; the internet merely makes it even easier to disseminate imagery, but it has never been possible to have strict control over imagery once it has been released into the world, whether on a canvas, or the printed page of a magazine or book, or what-have-you.)

    Clearly I haven’t written a coherent treatise here. But I nevertheless wanted to weigh in.

    • @Cynthia Wood, CORRECTION: SALLY MANN. (Clearly I’ve been thinking too much about my unpaid student loans…)

  47. The taboos against ogling the bodies of girls and boys under 18 are there for very sound reasons mainly to protect the girls from lecherous monsters and from those who seek to make money from the lechery. And it doesn’t matter the sex of the photographer.

    Nevertheless, lots of people get a thrill out of breaking those taboos. The only difference with Jock and Sally is that the art world has developed a very deep vocabulary of rationalization that allows people to cloak their kinks as legitimate.

    Strip away the fuliginous, art-insider prose and it comes down to this: Sturges and Sally Mann are producing titillating kitsch for what is a apparently a very large market of slightly pedophiliac adults.

    Jock and Sally’s fans aren’t perverts, exactly, but they really should be much more ashamed of themselves than they seem to be.

  48. What verbal diarrhea! Men are always going to whack off to images of the youthful naked body, and some, the very youthful naked body. But to deny everyone the joy of admiring its natural beauty because of this, is life-denying puritanism at its pleasure crushing worst.

  49. If I could turn back time and be a kid again, and if I had the chance to model for Jock I’d do it in a heartbeat. I’m not an exabitionist, it’s just that I’d love to have a record of what I looked like, really looked like, at the ages of 10, 11, 12 and 13. I’d treasure those images but the opportunity is lost to me forever. But know this, I would have modeled for Jock in order to please no one but myself. And if the images showed up on the net I wouldn’t care. If someone looked at them with impure thoughts it would not diminish me one bit, it would not make me a victim. If the prints where considered fine art, collected and displayed in galleries I would feel empowered.

  50. Few words of you, Andrea and everything is clear! You are so right. Obviously you ‘ll always find somebody to transform art in perversion. And it is not a reason to condamn everybody or art.
    Somewhere, I don’t feel comfortable with people who need absolutely to prohibit, even with the best reason…
    There is no “pornography” or “pedophilia” in nudity.
    Nudity is just an expression of yourself. Yes, the way you look at it can be pornographic but don’t project your disease on the people around.
    The work of Sturges is real art, and not only because he understands the light. Sturges is able to take a simple picture of life, as life is.
    If you feel uncomfortable with the nudity of a child, you should ask yourself about hidden desire, because if you are not projecting yourself into the picture, you will never feel uncomfortable.
    Prohibition protects only people who need to be protected because endangered. And in the picture of Sturges, it is not the children who are endangered : It is those, pathetic voyeur, obliged to face their hidden face.
    Normal people don’t feel uncomfortable.

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