Jock Sturges: Photographer or Pornographer?
The Story Of Jock Sturges and Issues he Faced with Child Pornography Charges:
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 Jock Sturges a true visual artist and pioneer? Or has he actually transgressed into the world of child pornography?
In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s 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.