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Monday, 15 November 2010

Kathryn Flett: "Call me a prude..."

Kathryn Flett writes on children viewing photographs in Saturday's Guardian.She asks whether children should see either pictures with a sexual element (specifically Mapplethorpe's) or pictures showing the aftermath of violence (specifically Stuart Griffiths photographs of mutilated servicemen).

I think I'm with Flett on this one, but the question is whether adults should see more of images of violence - with Remembrance Sunday just past, I can't recall seeing any picture on the television or in the papers that remembered the horrors of war in the way that Griffiths' pictures do. The idea that we are overrun with pictures of violence and suffering is laughable - in the UK at least, graphic images are self-censored and controlled.

This is what Flett has to say - read the whole article here.

Anyway, there I was on one of my child-free weekends, soaking up the culture, clocking the penises and the Patti Smith portraits, when I spotted a couple of cool-looking mid-30s mums and dads plus their offspring, ranging from babies to not-quite-double-figures, all "enjoying" the Mapplethorpe oeuvre en famille. At which point I felt almost comically middle-aged and reactionary. And for the second time in a fortnight, no less, having experienced similar bemusement at the sight of groovy parents, singly and in couples, hauling their kids around one of the edgier exhibits at the Brighton Photo Biennale – the horribly mutilated subjects of Stuart Griffiths's fine but harrowing (and also very large) colour portraits of maimed ex-servicemen.


Having first been struck by the Small Children + Scary Pictures = Who Knows What equation at Stuart Griffiths's Brighton private view, I wondered what the photographer felt about his work being right up there with a Pizza Express pit-stop and 3D Despicable Me as part of a cosy family day out: "Well, I grew up with a very rose-tinted, Action Man view of the army as somewhere where men were able to be men – but my son, who has grown up with my images, doesn't have that at all. I've asked him if he'd ever want to join up, and straightaway he said no, he doesn't want to end up like one of my photographs. As far as he's concerned, war is bad and that's that," says Griffiths.
As anti-war propaganda, then, Griffiths's pictures are undeniably powerful tools – and all the more so for having been made by an ex-soldier. And then there is a human narrative largely missing from the Mapplethorpe oeuvre that might engage even relatively young children (though I think mine are too young) in a potentially positive way.
The picture at the top is an illustration of Hilary Mantel who writes a disturbing but entertaining article on the visceral and psychological indignities  served up when an operation goes wrong. The illustration reminds me of Eikoh Hosoe's Ordeal by Roses. Read the article here.

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