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Nan Goldin Photograph Seized by Police

Nan Goldin, Self-portrait on the train, Germany, 1992

A Nan Goldin photograph owned by Sir Elton John and about to go on display at a gallery in the UK has been seized by the police as possible child pornography. The photograph is from Goldin's Thanksgiving series and features two young, naked girls, with one of them spreading their legs.

Goldin's work has often included nudity - both young and old. She is known for her intimate photographs of transvestites and drug addicts, as well as those of her lovers and family. Goldin once said of her photography: "My work originally came from the snapshot aesthetic . . . Snapshots are taken out of love and to remember people, places, and shared times. They're about creating a history by recording a history."


The photograph in question is now in the custody of police, who are apparently deciding its fate. Interestingly enough, it is rumored that one of the gallery employees was the one to call the police in the first place, fearing the photograph might be offensive.

Sir Elton John is, apparently, a big fan of Goldin's work and a close friend.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. It's not the first time that the art vs. pornography debate has compromised a gallery exhibit, but the involvement of children as subjects makes this an especially sensitive matter.

In 2001, London police demanded that the Saatchi Gallery remove one of Goldin's photographs because of its alleged offensive nature. When the gallery refused, officials backed down saying there was no prospect of securing a conviction in the case.

I don't believe art should be censored. All I want is information before I see an exhibit. It's a gallery's responsibility to inform the public regarding the graphic nature of any exhibit they mount. Each member of the public can then decide based on their own value system if they want to view it. This is what living in a democratic society with civil liberties means - you have the right to choose, not to seize and censor.


I also operate under the assumption that any respectable curator/gallery has an extensive knowledge of an artist's work and has taken into account the possible exploitation of child. But here's the thing, is a photograph of a naked child pornography? Obviously, it depends on the circumstances and context. Knowing Nan Goldin's work and, with my understanding of the ethos behind it, I would venture to say no.

We'll have to see what the UK coppers decide to do... and whether Sir Elton gets his artwork back.