When renowned Australian photographer, Bill Henson, photographed nude children below the age of sixteen for an art exhibition in Sydney in May 2008, Prime Minister at the time, Kevin Rudd, described it as “revolting”. Henson was arrested on the basis of publishing indecent articles according to the NSW and Commonwealth Crimes Acts. When it was eventually revealed in June that Henson would not be prosecuted, the public was outraged at the thought of a supposed ‘child pornographer’ going unpunished. What is perhaps most interesting about this incident is the fact that Henson had the necessary consent to photograph these children for the exhibition. However, what must be noted in Henson’s case is that his mistake was not in photographing children in the nude, it lay in photographing ‘white’ children in the nude.
In a satirical essay titled How To Write About Africa, Binyavanga Wainaina, states “Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these”. So it is interesting to note that when addressing the western world in regards with African issues, it is instinct for western media bodies to depict Africa as a war torn continent, where every African is the same; the women and men clothed in tattered pieces of cloth, saggy breasts wedged in the mouths of kwashiorkor stricken children, as flies dance effortlessly on their dark, dry skin. We must not forget the televised appeals from global charities often picturing common themes of semi-naked, poor Africa children who just need a small donation of ten dollars to eat for a month. The shock-value commercials offer little on the causes of poverty and prevention, instead exploiting African’s in exchange for good ratings. The double standard implies that whilst it is absurd to see a white child naked in an art gallery for critical acclaim, there are no rules broken in taking pictures and videos of defenceless African children, with no knowledge that their rights are being breached for the sale of a magazine or the acceptance of an award for photojournalism. However, it is not just the media. A prominent early colonialist writer, Joseph Conrad, can be seen at the inception of where these misconceptions and images of African’s spiralled. In his infamous novella Heart of Darkness, Conrad on several occasions describes his first encounter with African’s as though they are of different species to humankind and I quote: “A black figure stood up, strode on long black legs, waving long black arms”. In his criticism of Heart of Darkness it is no wonder why celebrated African writer, Chinua Achebe, described Conrad as “a bloody racist”.
In conclusion it is questionable that while western society is quick to label artists as ‘child-pornographers’ for photographing white children- journalists, broadcasters and charities reveal naked African children habitually at no cost to their reputations. The knowledge of this double standard is what makes poor-nography as big of a concern as pornography.