Indecency charges expected over Australian photo exhibit

Australian police said Friday they will likely file charges over a photography exhibit featuring images of naked children.

Australian police said Friday they will likely file indecency charges over a photography exhibit featuring images of naked children.

An exhibition of leading Australian photographer Bill Henson's work had been scheduled to open at Sydney's Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery on Thursday evening. However, the gallery temporarily suspended the opening to allow police to investigate the images and to talk to Henson.

Officers have since removed more than a dozen works, including images depicting one specific girl under the age of 16.

The images in question depict the girl in a sexual context, local area commander Alan Sicard said, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Charges would most likely fall under "the offence of publishing an indecent article under the Crimes Act," he added.

The controversy has sparked widespread debate in Australia, with some criticizing the images as child pornography and others defending the artist.

Though they defended Henson, gallery officials also said they plan to reopen the exhibit soon without the images under investigation.

"After much consideration we have decided to withdraw a number of works from the current Bill Henson exhibition that have attracted controversy," a gallery statement read.

Otherwise, gallery owner Roslyn Oxley and Henson have so far declined to comment.

Critics demand charges, supporters decry censorship

Child protection groups have called for criminal charges to be laid against both Henson and the gallery. Both the ruling government and the opposition have also weighed into the debate: Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, after being shown the images, condemned them.

"I find them absolutely revolting," Rudd said during an interview with Nine Network TV. "Whatever the artistic view of the merits of that sort of stuff — frankly I don't think there are any — just allow kids to be kids."

Opposition leader Barry O'Farrell agreed and called the photos inappropriate.

"Art will always push society's boundaries, but protection of our children must always be the priority," he said.

Voices from the arts community have argued that pulling the images amounts to censorship.

John McDonald, the art critic for the Sydney Morning Herald, said he feels there is nothing sexual about the photos.

"To me, the big shame is that the only time that we start looking at art and talking about art in the mainstream media is when it's banned, when it's supposedly pornographic, when it's doing something that's taboo," he said in an interview on ABC Radio.

Art market analyst Michael Reid, who had a sneak preview of Henson's exhibit before the scheduled opening, acknowledged that "the sexualization of children is an extremely important [issue]."

However, "the question is: 'Was there consent?' which I can't answer, and 'Has the image been sexualized?' In my opinion, it wasn't," he said.

Henson is one of Australia's renowned artists, having served as the nation's official representative at the prestigious Venice Biennale contemporary art fair and been the subject of a recent 30-year career retrospective.  His work has also been studied by high school photography students and appears in galleries around the globe.

With files from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Associated Press