Jock Sturges is the Artist of the Week After His Photos Cause a Protest in Moscow
The work of the US photographer Jock Sturges has sparked another debate recently. Described in one of his biographies as a “lightning rod for controversy”, Sturges has already been in trouble in the United States for his brand of nude photography. The latest exhibition by Jock Sturges in Moscow entitled Absence of Shame has been closed down after some protesters blocked the venue of the show accusing him of shooting child pornography. Following a public outcry, the show that was on view at the Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography sparked a lot of debate that was also joined by a pro-Kremlin senator, prominent and the newly appointed children’s ombudsman.
The Jock Sturges Controversy In Moscow
Best known for his series of families taken at naturist communes in Northern California and in resorts in France, this is the first time the artist has exhibited his work in Moscow. Several members of the NGO Officers of Russia, whose main aim is “the patriotic upbringing of the population”, have showed up at the gallery camouflaged, blocking the entrance to the building and evaluating the contents of the exhibition as “pedophilic”. Earlier, another man has managed to get inside the building and spray several works with a mixture of urine and acetone. After several incidents with Russian Orthodox believers and nationalists, the gallery has decided to close the exhibition. After the initial online discussion that involved some of Sturges’ most controversial photographs featuring nude minors that were not even in the show, the exhibition made headlines and sparked a public debate about whether this could be qualified as art. The Russian legislator Elena Mizulina urged that the exhibition be closed at once as the “propaganda of paedophilia in the most accurate sense of the word”, while the newly appointed children’s ombudsman Anna Kuznetsova called for the investigation of the display, describing Surges’ photographs as “chilling”. Sturges stated he was “sad” at the news of the exhibition closing, noting that this has been the first time he has been faced with such an incident at one of his exhibitions abroad.
The Beauty of a Naked Human Figure
The work of the acclaimed American artist has been marked as taboo numerous times. In 1990, the US investigators raided his home and studio for the use of nude adolescents as subjects of his photos, but a grand jury decided not to indict him. In 1998, the states of Alabama and Tennessee have attempted to label his books The Last Day of Summer and Radiant Identities as child pornography. The truth is that the artists has been concerned with beauty in all its forms for many decades. His works are devoid of exploitive or negative characteristics, or any filth. Since he has been mostly photographing nudist communities, his models never undress for the photoshoot, but were nude before the artists has even arrived. “All my life I’ve taken photographs of people who are completely at peace being what they were in the situations I photographed them in”, he once stated. Captured in their most organic surrounding in the absence of shame, Sturges’ models are not concerned with nudity as it means nothing for them. Being deeply involved with his models and photographing them over a period of many years, he aims to show the beauty of their bodies and character as a part of his exploration of a journey from child to adult. As nobody was born with their clothes on, nudity should be one of the most natural states possible, especially for an innocent child. Yet, the Western culture has managed to make a taboo out of it, obsessed with the possibility of any sexual predators lurking out there. This Western-centrism has marked Sturges’ photographs as obscene, intrinsically linking nudity with sexuality. Yet, there is absolutely nothing sexual about these photographs, there is only the beauty of a naked human figure in all its freedom.
Featured images: Jock Sturges by Joni Kabana, via jonikabana.com; Jock Sturges – Coralie, Nikki, Mylene, Estelle, Alice, Montalivet, France, 1998; Jock Sturges – Gaëlle; Montalivet, France, 1996, via lumas.com