Jock Sturges Naturist Photographer of Nudist Kids and Children

| July 3, 2013 | 9 Comments

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 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.

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Photograph by Jock Sturges Young Girl Nude

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Christina by Jock Sturges

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Nude Mother and Child By Jock Sturges

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Christina, Misty, & Alisa 1989, by Jock Sturges

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Radiant Identities: Photographs by Jock Sturges

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Nude Young Boys Photograph by Jock Sturges

All Photographs by Jock Sturges

Social Nudity and Nude Art Censorship Blogs by Young Naturists And Nudists America YNA

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Category: Social Nudity Blogs, Naked News, Art, Censorship, Nudism and Naturism, Social Activism

About the Author ()

Author of Felicity's Blog. Co-founder of Young Naturists America. 3rd-generation nudie. Avid reader. Feminist. 70% vegan, 30% vegetarian. When I'm not busy eating, I'm writing about naturism, censorship, topfree equality, body image and other fun topics. I like feedback, so plz leave a comment when you've got something to say!
  • zharth

    “Is Sturges a true visual artist and pioneer? Or has he actually transgressed into the world of child pornography?”

    I think it’s disrespectful to even ask this question, because it posits the latter case as a real possibility. Anyone who is familiar with Sturges’ work and life (beyond glancing at one picture and being inappropriately outraged at the nudity), will be confident in the fact that he has never published anything remotely resembling pornography. His reputation has been dragged through the mud on account of the puritan culture of the United States, but the FBI had to drop their case against him because *there was no evidence of a crime*. (I don’t blame him for steering clear of the country ever since). Sturges shoots without having his models sign releases – at his own personal risk – because he is friends with everyone he shoots, asks permission for every publication of their images, and reserves their right to change their mind at any time in the future about further publication of their images. Many children who have been photographed by Jock Sturges have been so happy with the results that, once grown and with kids of their own, they have enthusiastically consented to let Jock Sturges photograph their children, too (I can’t think of a better endorsement than that). One has to bend over backwards in the modern climate in order to pursue a subject that has featured pervasively throughout art history – the nude child (and young “minor” adult) – on account of how jaded we’ve become. Despite the fact that this sustained belief that children’s and especially adolescent bodies are somehow taboo contributes to body image disorders and sexual health maladjustments among a distinctly vulnerable population. (Think long and hard about why we conflate telling a minor that her body is a work of art with some kind of vile perversion – if you ask me, the true perversion is describing these works of art as “obscene”). To continue to slander the reputation of a gifted artist the likes of Jock Sturges is nothing short of dishonorable.

  • saratje

    I think people are worried with how accessible everything is on the internet, that even photos made as art, end up in the wrong hands of the wrong people with the wrong intention.
    Art used to only be visible in art galleries where people with the wrong intent would be shunned. On top of that, most galleries did not allow photography because of copywrite reasons. Those who knew about the exposition, were interested, others did not find out.

    But today, art is all over the internet and copywrite laws fall silent when the law can’t catch up with technology anymore. I think that people want that to be impossible, tightening their grip on what art may be available, rather than allowing even one piece of art to be used in the wrong context.

  • The Supreme Court ruled that nonsexual naked photos of children are not pornographic.
    The government is being hypocritical when they prosecute someone for nonsexual nudist photos because they have the exact same thing on their own site and they have plenty of documentaries with naked children at military stores.

  • KarkiMeade

    @OculusDar I disagree. If someone is raped for art’s sake, it’s still rape. And the art created (or “evidence”, since that’s a far more accurate term in that case,) would be a furtherance of that initial violation. So an image can definitely be more than just an image. Just as a death threat in a fancy frame is still a death threat and a crime. A call to someone with great backing musicians could be harassment rather than just art. Art exists in a world, not a vacuum.

    Consent is necessary when someone’s sexuality is either used or displayed. And nudity and sexuality do combine. It’s not as simple as you put it. 

    We mostly agree. But not entirely.

  • OculusDar

    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.

  • OculusDar

    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.

  • Cabbagehead1620

    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).

  • KarkiMeade

    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.

  • mcco1983

    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.