Last night’s Australian Story on ABCTV invited its audience into the world of the remarkable photographer Poli Papapetrou and her family, in particular that of her daughter, Olympia.
When Olympia was six, Poli took a portrait of her naked in a re-creation of a much earlier image made by Lewis Carroll, known as the author of Alice in Wonderland, as well as for his photographic studies of young girls.
Poli’s photograph caused expressions of outrage from Kevin Rudd, Bravehearts founder and child advocate Hetty Johnston, and of course my old nemesis, Melinda Tankard Reist, all of whom found Olympia’s image highly offensive and her mother even more so for making it.
Olympia, now sixteen, has become interested in what’s known as “selfies” which for the uninitiated are self-portraits, usually taken by teenage girls in various stages of undress, and posted on the internet. Her critique of this practice can be read here.
Australian Story invited Melinda Tankard Reist to comment on selfies, and the manner in which we gaze upon young girls in our culture. Tankard Reist declared that because our vision is so tainted by pornography thanks to the pornified, sexualised atmosphere in which we dwell, it has become impossible for us to innocently view images of girls, whether they be those made by Poli Papapetrou of her daughter, the notorious photographs of Bill Henson, or selfies.
My damn spell check will not accept selfies as a word and insists on changing it. That means something, doesn’t it.
The sudden appearance of Ms Tankard Reist in the middle of what had, up till then, been an engrossing portrait of a loved-filled, creative family life complete with what I suspect were rescued greyhounds, was something akin to the shocking effects felt at the manifestation of a bad fairy at a joyous christening. Dark, forbidding, increasingly grim-lipped, Tankard Reist described to us of our loss of innocence, our inability to ever see a naked child as anything other than sexual fodder, thanks to the porn saturated universe we have wilfully allowed to engulf us.
We have, whether we realise it or not, had our capacity to gaze innocently upon the young stolen from us by pedophiles. In some abominable alchemical exchange, that gaze has been replaced with their dark and evil vision, and most of us do not even know what we have lost. Obviously, it is up to Melinda to tell us.
I don’t know about everybody else, but when I see a naked child the last thing that comes to mind is sex. I don’t think, oh my, that child is sexualised!Heavens, I even take photos of my grandsons with their willies out and their gorgeous naked buttocks that I could just kiss and kiss!
Set against the backdrop of Olympia and her family, Tankard Reist’s message has never sounded so insanely deviant. Of course there are situations in which girls are exploited and abused. But to lose the ability to tell one thing from another is a dangerous tragedy. Most of us retain that ability. Tankard Reist does not. In warning us of the loss of the innocent gaze, she reveals only that hers is lost. Mine is not and no matter how many pornographic images I’m bombarded with, it will never be lost.
Olympia’s family are an excellent example of how to combat pornographic assaults on the gaze, and raise children capable of distinguishing between art and beauty, and exploitation and abuse. Tankard Reist’s dark vision has no place in this world, and indeed, brings only destruction.