We live in challenging times. And that’s not such a bad thing.
Challenge is good. We need to keep challenging our thoughts, values and traditions, because that’s how progress is made, despite what Glenn Beck tells us. Evolution is based upon responding to selective pressures in the environment, and this includes sociological and psychological pressures as we learn more and more about the human mind.
I remember being absolutely revolted by Larry Clark’s Kids, seeing it as an exploitative work of trash that existed to expose barely-legal flesh. Jailbait on film. It’s been almost fifteen years since I’ve seen the film, and while I still don’t really care for the film, I’ve been learning more and more about our current society’s approach to sex, and am realizing that kids are becoming aware of their sexuality at younger and younger ages.
We look at a series like Twilight that claims to be a parable to abstinence, but in reality it is feeding into the sexual hunger and fantasies of teenagers. Let’s be real with this - teenagers are having sex, and they think about it all the time. I know I did when I was that age. The greater issue and concern is whether or not they’re being smart about sex.
But now that teen sexuality is in the common conscience, I find the work of photographer Bill Henson quite remarkable, a straightforward and honest depiction of human desire and want, one that is current to our times and challenges the mainstream idea of where teenagers are in society.
Henson is a controversial figure who, like Larry Clark, has been called an exploitative or perverted artist, someone who has a fascination with young flesh. But there is a difference, in my opinion, from Clark and Henson’s work. Where Clark takes the viewpoint of pervy voyeur in his films - his camera lingers on teen bodies in the most uncomfortable way - Henson’s camera focuses on teen desire, and not the desire for teens. There is a big, big difference.
There’s a poetic and dreamlike quality to Henson’s visions, setting his subjects within a fantasy land that is constructed within everyday landscapes. There is a macabre aura to his work, by way of his muted color palette and the almost deadened quality of the skin tones of his subjects. But what I love more is his treatment of desire and longing, which is treated purely as an internal concept, which leaves so much more to interpretation.
When we look at these photos, we’re taken to a place of the subject’s thoughts, and those thoughts are ones that we all have had. Larry Clark gives us the fantasy of an older man watching teens having sex, whereas Bill Henson gives us the fantasies of teenagers from their own perspective. Henson accomplishes what Stephanie Meyer could never do so poetically, which is to give us the magic of dreaming of falling in love, of capturing that moment when we first get an inking of what we want in our lives. The first moment when we realize that we desire.
It’s always a risk to freely admit that I am inspired by such a controversial and polarizing figure (I might lose some followers because of it), but I see beauty in his work, and it makes me think, which I can’t say that about a lot of art and media today. While there are many of Henson’s works that I find very uncomfortable (particularly his nudes), his work challenges me to think differently about teen life today, and makes me really dig for the truth of my own experiences as a teenager. It forces me to be honest with myself, and with others about a subject (sex) that we’ve all been browbeaten to be ashamed of. Why should we be ashamed of something that we’ve been wired to embrace and enjoy? The minute we freely accept that sex is going to happen, only then can we freely talk about the responsibilities and consequences that come along with it. Conversely if we banish those thoughts from our collective conscience, as the religious right and neo-conservatives have, then we’ll end up with a lot of people doing stupid things behind our backs. Like Sarah Palin’s kids
Not really sure what this has to do with Lilith, other than I’m using Henson’s photographs as a colour and texture reference. Which is pretty huge, I guess. :)