As reported by the Washington Post, John “Jock” Sturges has been sentenced to three years of probation after pleading guilty in Franklin Superior Court to a charge of an “unnatural and lascivious act on a child under 16.”
A highly controversial photo exhibit at a small art gallery in Moscow shut down this week after protests against it got out of hand. Not only were the
The exhibit of nude photographs by American photographer Jock Sturges (NSFW link) is controversial, there’s no way around that. Sturges work, primarily “portraits of nude adolescents and their families,” involves following families across many years and capturing fine art nude photographs from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. In the US, attempts have been made to ban Sturges’ books, and the FBI even raided his studio in the 1990s, although a grand jury ultimately decided not to indict him in that case
This guest post is written by Elizabeth Fleming. Last month I had the pleasure of joining friend and fellow photographer Jonathan Blaustein on a tour of the Chelsea gallery scene as he conducted research for an APE article, which can be read in its entire
So with all that in mind I’ll throw out the following question: is it fair to expect any artist to recontextualize his or her work if the original frames of reference have changed due to technological advances and/or societal shifts? Is it fair to take into account an artist’s persona in general and, if there is a model involved, the specificities of the artist/subject relationship?
Art flaps fade away, but Sturges and his nude photos thrive
The photographs themselves, to my eyes, are more troublesome. The bodies on view, to a one, are all youthful, fit and lean. A warm bronze light prevails. But, somehow, in all this celebration of the body beautiful, there’s a nagging vacancy — in the models’ abstracted expressions and a slack structure and framing of the scenes. The elaborate picnic table shot seems artily contrived. So does the one of the two boys on the deck. Sturges’ photos have always looked a little stagey and arch to me, a little too studied in their bucolic innocence — of doorframe poses, riverside sun bathing or dogs casually flopped down at the feet of statuesque nudes.
Color presents fresh complications. Color literalizes, as it spells out every limb, hair and nipple in realistic, high-resolution detail. It challenges a photographer even more to discover an essence, to make us see the thing that’s plainly there but that we might not otherwise have registered. Sturges’ photographs just don’t do that very much. There’s something coy, whether by intention or not, about the way they invite us to puzzle out their meanings and then so consistently resist that kind of looking.
It’s not that Sturges exploits his subjects. Nothing in his work or history proves it. But he does expose them, without exposing much of anything about them. You don’t feel drawn into the mystery and wonder of the nudes he photographs. You see them and move on to the next and the next. Maybe Sturges just isn’t an especially good photographer — a possibility that he himself readily acknowledges. That doesn’t make him a pornographer by default. But it might make him a kind of poster boy for the dilemmas of photographic imagery in the Internet age. In the forthright yet strangely blank nature of his work, in its uncensored volume and digital technologies, Sturges presents the reflective image of a computer screen. Here, here it all is, his photographs say to us. Make what you will of them. That’s your private business, not mine.