Jock Sturges: Photographer or Pornographer?
Jock Sturges is a world famous photographer. His reputation straddles the invisible line separating fine art from lewd pornography. Sturges is well known as a photographer of nudists (naturists). He concentrated his efforts on creating pictures of mostly women and girls. The subjects ranged in age from adults to young children.
It was the photos of naked young children that first began the legal firestorm. Many people in society today are still divided about the depiction of minors in nude photography.
Is Sturges a true visual artist and pioneer? Or has he actually transgressed into the world of child pornography?
In the late 1980s and early 1990s Jock Sturges was making headlines and not for the right reasons. For the younger people who might be reading this, back in the day people needed to take rolls of film to be developed which was exactly what Jock did. Unfortunately for Jock, some technician saw the pictures and alerted the FBI to the possibility of child pornography / endangerment.
In July of 1990 numerous photos and photography equipment belonging to Sturges were seized by the government and held as evidence. At the time, the images were determined to be sexually explicit in nature. Thus a wide-scale child pornography case was looming on the horizon.
Many legal experts in San Francisco supported Jock Sturges. Politicians, analysts and some members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors declared that these images were forms of art. They also insisted that since these were not pornographic images of under-age kids, Sturges was protected by the First Amendment. They argued that he had the Constitutional right to freely express himself through his choice of artistic endeavors.
Following a drawn-out investigation that cost him $100,000 in legal fees, Sturges inevitably won the battle in September of 1991. After seventeen months of legal wrangling and obscenity charges, a federal grand jury declined to indite Jock Sturges as he was not guilty of any crime. Prosecutors were shocked when they heard the decision.
The “naturist” photos of women and children taken by Sturges could be found in books being sold through major retailers across the country (one of these retailers was Barnes & Noble). During the previously mentioned investigation some individuals had gone to local bookstores and took it upon themselves to destroy any of these books they could find.
After this landmark legal decision, the drama continued for quite some time. There was a continued push by certain individuals to have these photography books branded or at the very least, labeled as obscene material.
In 1998 the controversy got its second wind. Another attempt was made to have two of his books classified as child pornography – “The Last Day of Summer” as well as “Radiant Identities.” This attempt to ban his books in Alabama and Tennessee was unsuccessful.
Jock could at least see the ironic silver lining in all this – he became more famous as a result of this investigation and even more successful as a photographer. Unfortunately, the FBI had a way of permanently censoring artists like Jock. He says in an interview, “There are photographs I don’t take now that I previously would have taken without any thought at all. …Before, I didn’t think there was anything more or less obscene about any part of the body. I’d photograph anything. Now I realize that there are certain postures and angles that make people see red, which are evidence of original sin or something, and I avoid that. But it’s difficult.” And who can blame him for restricting himself as an artist when one innocent photograph can turn someone into a child pornographer?
Even some parents were taken in for investigation in the 90s after photo lab technicians reported a photo of a naked kid in their roll of film (the parents’ own kids of course). Maybe this still happens to parents today, but the digital age has made it much easier to keep family photos private. However, things have gotten more ridiculous since nowadays kids themselves are facing child pornography charges from “sexting”!
In any case, we have included a few images of Sturges’ work below. In our view, these images and his other works are not pornographic or sexual by any stretch of the imagination. The scandal seems to have been the result of a widespread fear and paranoia surrounding pedophiles and child pornography. Sturges also attributes it to the way American society is so hung-up about sex and the way it refuses to recognize children as sexual beings. He states in the same interview: “Western civilization insists on these concrete demarcations. Before 18, you don’t exist sexually; after 18, you exist like crazy. It’s ridiculous. The truth is that from birth on, Homo sapiens is, to one extent or another, a fairly sensual species.”
Read more in An Interview with Jock Sturges from 1998.
All Photographs by Jock Sturges
About the Author (Author Profile)I'm Felicity Jones, author of Felicity's Blog and co-founder of Young Naturists America. I write about nudism and naturism in today's world along with issues like top-freedom and body acceptance, and various naked topics. Enjoy, and please leave a comment when you've got something to say! :)
Doesn't look in any way pornish to me. Quality photography, and totally non sexual, so I don't see any issue (Assuming that consent has been given).
Whether or not something is pornography is a determination that has some legal criteria, but it really just goes straight to the question of "Does this image look like it is intended to be something someone would look at while masturbating?" That leads to "Is it okay? Because some people aren't into what I'm into." And then that leads to "OMG! This guy's a monster!" for some and "That's some beautiful art!" or "I'm not really comfortable, but I'm not really that offended, either" for others.
Beauty scares the crap out of some people. The idea that naked people can have fun without it being all about sex is something they can't consider. But there's still a sexual/sensual element to anything beautiful, too. Attraction is for a reason, after all. Jock Sturges seems to know exactly what he's doing, and I'm happy he creates such beautiful work.
Wow, to think that several innocent actions could possibly cause someone's future to be on hold. The blessing in disguise here is that the news media made Jock famous. Although, he did spend much more than advertising initially will cost. I hope he was able to write any of those charges off his income tax. I doubt it. That, of course, is another subject, and one quite broad I'm sure.
@KarkiMeade This absurd notion that what a person may be doing while looking at a photograph is absurd. >"Does this image look like it is intended to be something someone would look at while masturbating?"< What I may or may not be doing while I look at a photograph, including masturbating, has nothing to do with the photograph, and most certainly has nothing to do with the model or the intent of the photographer of that model. The truth is, it's no bodies business what I do while I look at a photograph, no matter what the photograph depicts. If I choose to masturbate while looking at a picture of a Christmas tree it doesn't change the virtue or value of the art/picture or the virtue or integrity of the Christmas tree.
@KarkiMeade Also, Art is not subject to legal assumptions. So, arguments that an image may be illegal do not apply. To put it simply, a picture is JUST a picture. Although it is true that what is depicted IN the picture MAY be evidence of a crime having been committed, the picture itself is not and cannot be considered criminal. It is an inanimate object, a work of Art perhaps. The virtue of a work of art exempts it from legal assumptions. The Right of Freedom of Speech, Freedom of eXpression, for example, applies to ANY work of Art no matter what that work of Art depicts. Nudity, as a rule of law and Nature, is not and cannot be made a crime, nor the depiction of nudity, including nude models under the fabricated and arbitrarily assigned age of 18, a criminal act. That's not to say that invalid laws cannot be passed and enforced, but those laws are, by definition, contrary to the laws of Nature and Common Laws regarding the principles of True Freedom.