Jan Saudek

As is evident on this blog, the image of the nude young girl is an image loaded with cultural baggage and, in some cases, peril for the artist.  We view children as vulnerable anyway, but the unclothed child is seen as even more vulnerable.  But nudity—when divorced from the modern context in which it conveys sexual availability—also can call to mind spiritual innocence, especially when the nude figure is a child.  This is precisely why the child nude was such a popular art subject with the Victorians; they saw each individual as the microcosm of the whole of humanity itself, and children were therefore a representation of pre-Fall Adam and Eve, the earliest incarnation of Man, an idyllic period of time before humans fell out of God’s good graces and became sinners in need of redemption.  With the waning of Christianity in the West the nude child has come to be seen differently, and, ironically, it is the Christians who now most often look upon the nude child as something shameful and sinister.

Under our knowing postmodern gaze, it is with mixed emotions that we look upon images of nude children which subvert this paradigm . . . exactly the point of the image below, taken by the masterful one-of-a-kind Czech photographer Jan Saudek.  Here we have perhaps the ultimate example of the subversion of said paradigm: a nude little girl (young girls being traditionally viewed as even more vulnerable and innocent than young boys) firmly gripping an instrument of pure destruction, a Parabellum pistol, and confidently pointing it straight ahead of her at some unseen target off-camera.  Moreover, the Parabellum is not just any pistol–it is well-known for its use throughout WWI and WWII by German officers, giving it particularly dark and political connotations.*  In fact, much of Saudek’s work has subtle political inferences in it, and he worked largely in secret during his early years to avoid being caught and his work seized by the Communist secret police.

The contrast is fascinating and, it must be said, gives the young girl (who looks something like a living baby doll in that ridiculously bright blond, outsized wig) a power she would not otherwise convey.  We do notice, however, that her finger is not on the trigger, probably because her hand is simply too small, her finger too short to reach it.  Her face is barely visible behind a stray lock of that crazy hair, adding an extra dimension of tension to the image.  What is she thinking, we wonder.  Does she know what she’s doing?


Jan Saudek – Parabellum 9mm (1983)

Jan Saudek (Official Site)

Wikipedia: Jan Saudek

* Saudek is of Jewish origin and many of his relatives perished in the concentration camps. He and his twin brother (when they were children) and father were also sent to the camps late in the war, and they all survived. Saudek’s brother, Kája is now a famous artist in his own right, one of the preeminent comic book artists in Europe and the most notable one in his home country, the Czech Republic.


From Jack Storyman on September 6, 2012

I think it bears mentioning that Jan Saudek had a photo taken down from an exhibit in Ballarat International Foto Biennale on the eve of its opening in 2011, because a woman went to the Office of the Child Safety Commissioner, Tourism Victoria and the local council to complain that the 1995 Saudek’s work, “Black Sheep & White Crow”, which the woman had seen in an ad promoting the exhibition in Art Almanac, depicted “a mother prostituting her child.”

Saudek is the most renowned and important Czech photographer in the world who took a lot of his photos while sneaking around under communist rule. As you mention, he lost a lot of his relatives to the concentration camps. His photos are considered to be some of the most powerful images in the world and I have admired them for decades.

Yet…one wild eyed woman’s cry of child exploitation managed to reduce him to a child pornographer.

Because the exhibit relies on public funding, they caved into city official’s demands that the photo be taken down.

If you take a picture of a naked young girl nowadays, no matter how famous you are and no matter what your intentions may have been…be prepared for an epic shit-storm.

Just ask Jock Sturges, Bill Henson, Polixeni Papapetrou, David Hamilton, Jan Saudek or Sally Mann. All of them respected and accomplished artists…all of them shown in galleries throughout the world…all of them vilified for taking pictures of young nude girls.

In 2007, the Gateshead’s Baltic Centre was to exhibit 130 of Sir Elton John’s photos from his amazing collection. A photograph called “Klara and Edda belly-dancing” by Nan Goldin, was seized from Arts Centre by police on charges that it violated child pornography laws even though it had been exhibited around the world without objection. Sir Elton had his own epic shit fit and pulled the entire collection, thus closing down the show.

Sturges had the FBI raid his studio and confiscate all of his incredible silver-toned photographs. It cost him over $100,000 in legal fees before the judge finally ruled what we in the art community had known all along:

They were art.

If you can’t tell the difference between an artistic photo and porn…you’re a idiot. But then again, we are talking about governments, radical feminists and the sexually repressed religious right…so I rest my case.

However, in the history of the world, there has never been a case of a sexual crime against children being caused by an artwork.

Never.  I double dare you to cite just one.  End of Rant.

From pipstarr72 on September 6, 2012

Good rant.  Yes, I recall mentioning the thing about Saudek’s photo being removed from the BIFB in another post on Saudek I made last spring. One only has to peruse Saudek’s catalog of work to see that he isn’t interested in sexually titillating the viewer but rather in provoking them to look at these subjects in a different way.

From Anonymphous on September 7, 2012

“in the history of the world, there has never been a case of a sexual crime against children being caused by an artwork. ”
I may be an idiot in your eyes, but I’d say, what is art is still subjective, and even the most pornographic images still can have some artistic value. For example, to me, Lolicon is rather art than porn, but to many others, it´s not. And I think, there already have been cases where this “caused” people to commit crimes against children (while it´s actually hard to say, what REALLY causes such things…). But then again, it also works as an outlet for many others, to not live out any urges in real life. And I`m pretty sure, there also already have been the one or other person who had some Graham Ovenden pictures on his HDD, who got caught for sexual activities with children (or whatever you mean by “causing such things”).

I think, rather than to look at, if something is “art” or not, one should look at and listen to what those who were involved in it have to say to this. But sadly, we live in a society where “children” are supposedly all fucking retarded and can´t judge about anything. However, ironically, everyone still can look at Eva Ionesco pictures in erotic poses, although she clearly seems to regret these pictures, and her mother even forced her to pose for them, but when you have a picture of Cat Goddess on your HDD, who actually looks more happy than 90% of every other child out there, well, then you are a criminal, and should go to jail, because it´s not “artfully enough done” – lol

From Pip Starr on September 7, 2012

Yeah, it’s probably a stretch to say that an artwork has never caused a sex crime against a child; it’s safer to say that acting out as a result of observing art would fall in the ‘statistically insignificant’ range. In fact, I’ve seen studies that said the same thing about actual child porn: there is virtually no link between the end users of child porn and the sexual abuse of children. Those who make child porn don’t do it for profit and are thus already likely to abuse kids even if they didn’t create the porn; my hunch is that most producers of it make it as a kind of trophy of their sexual conquest, which is also done by some men with their adult lovers.

Anyway, I think it also depends on how you define ’cause.’ It is probably true that an artwork at some time might’ve pushed someone over the edge who was already very near it; what I’m certain is not true is that an artwork caused anyone who was not already so inclined to commit a sex crime against a child. But again, I suspect even the former case is very rare, and it is far more likely that the presence of a child has incited more sex crimes than anything, since the majority of sexual abuse cases seem to be crimes of opportunity. But what are you gonna do? Ban children from interacting with adults altogether? Not even remotely possible. In any case, even if art did influence some people to commit crimes, that is not a good enough justification for banning it; as I once argued–rather forcefully I might add–with one of my college professors (a conservative Christian who was a vocal advocate of censorship), you cannot punish all people for the crimes of a few which haven’t even been committed yet.

From Jack Storyman on September 8, 2012

Sorry…but I must emphatically disagree. While I would wholeheartedly concur that art is relative and subjective, I would not waste any time arguing that Lolicon was art. At least…not the stuff I’ve seen.

Lolicon comics follow a storyline of little girls being groomed, then brutally raped. And of course, they like it.

In my opinion, that is pedophilia. You are opening your mind up to images (whether they be drawings or photographs) of children being abused; so it stands to follow that YOU would be predisposed to abusing children if that is what you like looking at. (It is immaterial whether you have acted on those feelings or not.)

But you would have to stretch that line of thinking half way around the world if you’re attempting to compare Lolicon to a William Bouguereau painting. One is art. The other is an outlet for fantasizing about child abuse.

Are the artists that produce Lolicon talented? Without a doubt. But it is not, in my opinion…art. Child erotica maybe…

I said, “If you can’t tell the difference between an artistic photo and porn…you’re a idiot.” And I stand by it. However, I would also add paintings and sculpture to that statement too.

Hold a picture of Akseli Gallen-Kallela – In the Sauna (1889) next to a Lolicon rendering of a little girl being sodomized and tell me if you cannot tell the difference. I think the majority of rational people could.

With that said, I think, as do many other people in the art community, that there is a movement to demonize and slander anyone who chooses to paint, draw or photograph a child who is nude no matter what the intentions of the artist. (A good example is an art trade show in New York I attended in 2010. A vendor put on an image of Paul Peal’s, “After the Bath” on the wall of his booth. One of the trade show organizers came by later and ask that he take it down. That one incident started my interest of nude children in art and the drive to suppress it.)

The naked child has been a staple of artist’s canvas’ and clay since the beginning of time because the artist thought that the body of a young child was beautiful and worthy his time to paint. No one questioned whether the artist had a sexual predisposition toward the girls they painted or sculpted. The image of a naked young girl was seen as a symbol of purity and chastity and in many parts of the world, it still is. It is only in the west that the body of a child is viewed with shame.

Polixeni Papapetrou’s husband wrote a piece defending the few pictures that Polixeni shot of the couples six year old daughter in the nude. I can’t quote him exactly, but he said something along the lines of, “This art was produced to entertain the higher functions of the mind with the conviction of the artist that it is wholesome and worth seeing. In the artist’s estimation, either the image is worth seeing, or it is not.”

So…is the image of a naked little girl wholesome and worth seeing? Does it speak to the higher functions of our brains? A great many artists thought it did and I would agree.

I’ve been in the art business for 30 years. I live and breathe it and believe it enriches my life. I also believe that the nude child has a place in the artistic world. But please…don’t try to blur the line any more than it is. There is a huge difference between what Jock Sturges does and what you find on a Japanese Lilicon site.

I was lucky enough to attend a Sturges showing in Dallas many years ago at the Photographs, Do Not Bend Gallery. The impact of those photos has stayed with me twenty years later. His books do not do the actual photos justice. His photographs actually glisten in the light and I would have crawled over your dead body just to own one of his beach scenes…without a nude! His subjects and composition speak of a man who is truly gifted. His work is powerful and sublime. You simply cannot compare that to Lolicon.

And Pip…did I really just hear you say, “It is probably true that an artwork at some time might’ve pushed someone over the edge who was already very near it”

Are you kidding me? I had to read that damn sentence over twice to make sure I heard you correctly. I can only assume it was late at night and you were tired because I have read your blog since day one and know you don’t believe that.

Artwork does NOTHING! A gun does not leave its drawer on two little legs and go out into the world to kill. Someone has to carry it. Art is just hanging on the wall. It does not “push” someone to do anything. That is what an abuser would say to justify his deviant behavior.

“Oh dude…the picture made me do it.”

The same goes for the alleged Graham Ovenden pictures on someone’s computer. Anonymphous said it too but I chose not engage such a ridiculous statement because his head is somewhere else. In the very next sentence we lean that the person who had those photos on his computer was in fact, abusing children.

We play right into the radical feminists, religious zealots and fear monger’s hands when we mimic such hogwash! If it were true that such images were causing men to run amuck, kidnapping and raping children, then I would be of the same mind. Ban it all.

And that is exactly what they would have us believe: That images like the ones display on this website are the reason there is child abuse. And we know that is not true.

At least…I hope you do Pip. I would hate to think that you would put something up that you believed might “push” someone over the edge.

Mmmm…I started out saying I would not waste my time arguing, and yet…

From Pip Starr on September 8, 2012

Hi, Jack. Well, I think we’re arguing semantics here. I did say it depends on how you define ’cause’–you are taking a rather pedantic definition of the word, suggesting that cause is direct from object to action, whereas I (and Anonymphous, I am guessing) meant the word as more along the lines of ‘to influence’. And can you really say with certainty that no artwork has ever influenced anyone to commit a sex crime against a child? I certainly do not know–and cannot know–whether that is the case or not, but I would err on the side of the possible being probable but incredibly rare, meaning that particular argument for censorship is not a very good one (as if there are any good arguments for censorship). Likewise, by your definition we could make the same argument for child porn, that it has never caused a sex crime against a child (although it’s production would, by definition, have involved at least two sex crimes, the sexual activity/activities caught on camera and the production of the child porn itself). And as I have said, there have been studies that show little to no connection between child porn consumption and sexual acting out; indeed, some have shown a reverse correlation between the two. Of course, we must remember that correlation does not imply causation.

I also must disagree with you that lolicon cannot be considered art, both as an artist myself and as an art aficionado. I think art, like beauty, is largely in the eye of the beholder. There’s an excellent article by author Neil Gaiman which makes the case pretty well that, while it may not be good art, it is still art and still worthy of First Amendment protections, particularly since it involves no actual children in its production. You suggest it is merely erotica, but can erotica–even child erotica–not be art? I disagree with you that it cannot. In fact, you’ll note that ‘erotic art’ is a category on my blog. Can we, for example, dismiss those erotic works by Franz von Bayros which include children as less than art? Or those of Paul-Emile Bécat or Martin van Maële? (Note: I plan to feature all three of these artists on this blog at some point, and compare them with lolicon.) What is the difference, other than that lolicon is modern, and, I think, has a bad reputation in the West largely because of cultural differences? Arguing against lolicon without bringing up the similar traditions which have existed/do exist here (even though it is much less of a cultural phenomenon than lolicon is) seems to me a bit racist (or, more accurately, culturalist, if that is a proper word) and more than a bit classist, the latter because lolicon belongs to the comics genre, and there have been numerous comics artists in the West who have depicted children or adolescents in sexual situations, sometimes as deliberate erotica. Gaiman mentions Alan Moore’s The Lost Girls, illustrated by Melinda Gebbie–I’ll toss in a few more: Frank Thorne (whose work Devil Angel was seized by authorities; he was eventually acquitted on a technicality), Robert Crumb (for his infamous incest comic piece “Joe Blow”), Kris Guidio (numerous comics–many collected in Fuck Off and Die–featuring a little girl, La Squab, who does drugs, has sex and kills people), Debbie Dreschler (her semi-autobiographical comic Daddy’s Girl is about a child who is sexually abused by her father), Phoebe Gloeckner, Renee French and Moebius (in the comics short “The Apple Pie” which can be found on this blog). With certain panels taken out of context, any of these could be viewed as erotica or porn.

Note that I am not advocating for lolicon or child porn here, merely suggesting that, yes, while there is a vast difference between the works of Sturges and lolicon, that it is far too simplistic to accept one as legit art and dismiss the other as mere illustrated porn. Lolicon is illustration and illustration is an artform, is it not? Basically my overall point is that these issues–including discerning what is and is not art–are complex, and if you’ll pardon me for saying so, I think it is a tad pretentious, at best, for anyone to claim without a doubt that such-and-such is art and such-and-such is not. There are lots of gray areas with this stuff, and whether a point might contribute to an opposing argument or not has no bearing on the truth. At any rate, I cannot see how recognizing that there are lots of gray areas and that these issues are complex ultimately strengthens the argument of would-be censors, who more often than not ground their arguments in moral absolutes.

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