Bill Henson

Bill Henson

Bill Henson (b. 1955) is an Australian contemporary art photographer.


Henson's art has been exhibited in many locations, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Venice Biennale, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia and the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. His current practice involves holding one exhibition in Australia every two years, and up to three overseas exhibitions each year.

Henson's photographs reflect an interest in ambiguity and transition. The use of chiaroscuro is common throughout his works. His photographs are painterly and often presented as diptychs, triptychs and other groupings. Henson's works often meditate on the categories of and relationships between male and female; youth and adulthood; day and night; light and dark; nature and civilisation. His images often use flattened perspective and tend towards abstraction. The faces of the subjects are often blurred or partly shadowed and do not directly face the viewer.

According to Crawford, Henson presents “adolescents in their states of despair, intoxication and immature ribaldry”. He has said that these “moments of transition and metamorphosis are important in everyone’s lives”.

Henson's intention is to use photography for creative expression. He states that he is not interested in a political or sociological agenda, although the viewer cannot help but relate his works to their own stance on these issues. Henson, however, is not intending his photographs to be authoritative evidence but rather to suggest endless possibilities and cause people to wonder.


Images seized

On 22 May 2008, the opening night of Bill Henson's 2007-2008 exhibition at the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in Paddington, Sydney, was cancelled after eight individual complaints were made to Police voicing concerns about an email invitation from the Gallery to a "Private View" that depicted a photographic image of a nude 13-year old girl. Hetty Johnston, a child protection advocate (Bravehearts), also lodged a complaint with the New South Wales police.. On the same day, Sydney Morning Herald columnist, Miranda Devine, had also written a scathing article in response to viewing the email invitation, which precipitated heated talk-back and media discussion throughout the day. In the process of removing the images from the Gallery website, Police found more photographic images of naked children on exhibition among various large format photographs of nonfigurative subjects, which they later sought to examine for the purposes of determining their legal status under the NSW Crimes Act and child protection legislation. Following discussions with the Gallery and a decision by Henson, the Gallery cancelled the opening and postponed the show.

It was announced on 23 May that a number of the images in the exhibition had been seized by police local Area Commander Alan Sicard, with the intention of charging Bill Henson and/or the Gallery with "publishing an indecent article" under the Crimes Act. The seized images were also removed from the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery website, where the remainder of the series can now be viewed online.

On the 5 June 2008, the former director of the National Gallery of Australia Betty Churcher said it was "not surprising" that the New South Wales Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) would announce its official recommendation that no charges be laid regarding the Sydney Roslyn Oxley9 gallery's collection of photographs by artist Bill Henson.

Ms Churcher says it would have been ridiculous to drag the case through the courts:

On 6 June 2008 it was reported in The Age that police will not prosecute Bill Henson over his photographs of naked teenagers, after they were declared "mild and justified" and given a PG rating by the Office of Film and Literature Classification, suggesting viewing by children under the age of 16 is suitable with parental guidance.

Selection of models

On October 4, 2008, Henson became the centre of controversy again after it was revealed in extracts of a book by journalist David Marr called The Henson Case that in 2007 he visited St Kilda Park Primary School to pick out potential models for his art work. Henson was allegedly allowed entry into the school and escorted by former principal Sue Knight (who had since left the school) around the schoolgrounds and picked two children he thought would be suitable - one child, a boy, was later photographed after his parents were approached by the school on behalf of the artist.

An investigation into the matter was launched by the Department of Education on October 6, 2008.


A few of his exhibitions:

  • 1975 Bill Henson, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
  • 1981 Bill Henson Photographs, Photographers' Gallery, London
  • 1989 Bill Henson Fotografien, Museum Moderner Kunst, Palais Liechtenstein, Wien
  • 1990 Bill Henson Photographs, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris
  • 1993 Bill Henson, Tel Aviv Museum of Art
  • 1998 Bill Henson, ACP Galerie Peter Schuengel, Salzburg
  • 2004 Presence 3: Bill Henson, The Speed Art Museum, Kentucky
  • 2006 Bill Henson, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane

External links


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