Australia's Bill Henson scandal: Notes on the new cultural attitude to images

Melinda Hinkson*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    8 Citations (Scopus)


    In May 2008 police removed a series of artworks by internationally renowned photomedia artist Bill Henson from the walls of a Sydney gallery just hours before his exhibition was due to open. They did so in response to an allegation that the invitation to the opening carried an image of child pornography. This article explores some of the events and public debate that followed. The author suggests that rather than simply replicating an age-old debate over censorship, the recent furore in Australia reveals dimensions of a new cultural attitude to images. She sketches some of the key dimensions of this attitude, with a particular focus on the increasingly dominant visual experiences offered by digitally mediated images. Following scholars writing at the interface between art theory and anthropology, she argues that these experiences configure relationships between persons and images in particular ways. She argues, too, that our mediated engagements with fleeting digital images are influencing the way we apprehend other kinds of pictures, and in turn have implications for our relations with each other. In conclusion she suggests that the Henson case highlights the ethical implications of recognising the qualitative distinctiveness of different kinds of visual experience.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)202-213
    Number of pages12
    JournalVisual Studies
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


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