Photo censorship controversy at Brighton Photo Fringe as photographer claims festival asks him to remove photos

©Miranda Gavin, Herman van den Boom

It appears that all is not quite as it seems in photo land as Belgian photographer Herman van den Boom, who is taking part in these year’s Brighton Photo Fringe festival, claims that the fringe festival organisers have asked him to remove three photographs from his series BETTER IN TUNE. See more of the project, here. And follow this link to one of the photos in question.

British Journal of Photography (BJP), news editor, Olivier Laurent and I were contacted by van den Boom yesterday and met him together after the press tour to discuss the situation.

From Laurent over at BJP: “According to the photographer, when the Fringe’s two directors – Helen Cammock and Woodrow Kernohan – visited the exhibition, they asked the photographer to take down four images, which, they argued, were offending to women, claims Van den Boom. “There’s no nudity at all. It might be an unflattering photograph, but doesn’t that mean that it shouldn’t be shown?” he tells BJP and HotShoe. “These are car-babes. The music is loud. It’s not a beautiful world, but the world it’s like it. I’m just documenting it. They say it’s degrading. They say that these images could offend the public, and contact the landlord of the building and make problems.”

“Van den Boom was able to change the director’s mind on one image, which shows scantily-dressed women dancing in front of a crowd of young men. But, says the photographer, “now I have to interfere and implement a non-artistic value into my artistic work. You can say that it’s only three pictures, but that’s 30% of the show. You can say that it doesn’t matter, but I’m the artist. It matters. The way I select my work, the way I hang, it is crucial…”

After talking to van den Boom, Laurent and I sent a joint email to the organisers Helen Cammock and Woodrow Kernohan to ask for confirmation of the allegation and to find out their side of the story. So far, the questions we emailed remain unanswered. I am pasting them in at the end of this post, as we wait. In the meantime, read Laurent’s post over at BJP where he has a news report, and check back here for updates. We’ll be keeping you posted.

The project, according to van den Boom’s website, is: “All about car tuning. The project received a generous grant from the Dutch Foundation of the Visual Arts and the Sem Presser Foundation… and will be exhibited at Brighton Photo Fringe at the Brighton Biennial October 2010.”

© Herman van den Boom, photo installation of van den Boom's work before he was asked to remove photos

© Herman van den Boom, photo installation of Boom's work after he was asked to remove photos

Questions from the email: How the decision to pull down the images came about? Who made the decision to pull down these images?

What were the reasons behind that decision?

Specifically, what and how were these images degrading?

Why this pre-emptive move? Shouldn’t the public be allowed to make their own mind about the nature of these images?

Why were the photographer’s suggestion to have a disclaimer shown or to replace these images, while keeping the original layout but with white canvases, rejected?

Our understanding is that Brighton Photo Fringe, apart from two commissions, is self-curated. Can you confirm this? If so, why was this photographer not allowed to show his edit of his work?

Are you commenting on the content of the images or on the way they represent the subject? Are you saying that the photographer degraded the women depicted through the act of photographing them?

Have their been any other instances of this nature? If so, what were the specific reasons given in these cases?

Report by Miranda Gavin and Olivier Laurent.

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3 responses to “Photo censorship controversy at Brighton Photo Fringe as photographer claims festival asks him to remove photos

  1. I’m opposed to censorship of the arts in general, and an activist against such infringements. However, for me, this incident tends to simply place a question mark against the quality of the event, which I had never heard of, but having now looked, it does not honestly surprise me that this kind of problem has been encountered.

    My advice to any serious photographic artist, would be to focus on established and internationally recognised events, that carry a prestige in the world of photographic arts. This event seems not to be one of them, and this nature of mindless censorship will only serve to make it difficult to evolve such an event to the level of recognition it would need to achieve, before becoming of serious interest to any established photographic artist.

    I doubt you are going to see the works from the likes of Araki, David LaChapelle, Thomas Ruff (to name but a few) at an event such as this, and with this mentality, are never likely too! Certainly, I am precluded 😉

  2. Sorry to go a bit off topic here but, ignoring the censorship debate for a moment, I have to strongly disagree with Thomas’ opinions on the Fringe (previous comment).

    Both the Biennial and Fringe are internationally recognised, established events which attract attention from all over the world, not to mention photographers from all over the world. Between the two events artists such as Alec Soth, Martin Parr, Wolfgang Tillmans, Paul Seawright, Simon Roberts, Mark Power and Anna Fox (to name just a few), are all involved. That’s a bit of a “who’s who” list of names there – not sure what more you want from a photography festival Thomas?

  3. In response to John, I think the problem is that such events in the UK just do not have the impact they have outside of the U.K. The list of involved people is admirable, but in reality both of these shows are just not at the forefront (be it due to lack of funding, lack of recognition or whatever?).

    This article in the Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2010/sep/27/martin-parr-brighton-photo-biennial) seems to sum things-up quite effectively, especially when they make reference to lack of funding and the general lack of appreciation within the U.K., in addition to various comparable references to Arles. Take a look also at the comments, one Brighton resident states that he did not realise either of these shows even existed! I don’t think residents of a comparable European festival would be able to say this, and the US even less so. Add this to the controversy of censorship issues, which no matter how you view things, does not serve the festival well. My point is, that this festival is seemingly struggling for recognition, regardless of who they actually have involved, it seems to be fairly well documented that it is not on an even playing field with its counterparts. Add controversial issues of censorship, and this will only diminish the standing, not improve it. The events might be recognised internationally, but recognised in what level of importance is another issue all together.

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