The publication of a sequence of Cutileiro’s photographs in the front page of a leading newspaper is raising a serious controversy in Portugal. The quarrel and its circumstances have been away from the public realm, but its origins and implications justify some attention and debate. The sequence, named La Grande Stripteaseuse, pictures a woman undressing for Cutileiro’s camera. The photographs were taken 47 years ago, and the model (and her lawyers) argues that consent was never given, at the time, for the public exhibition of the images, although, as far as I know, prohibition was never an issue during the sessions. The media and the weblogs are under an intense pressure to withdraw the photographs from their pages.
The Anonymous “Stripteaseuse” (after a João Cutileiro’s Photo)
It is obvious, by looking at the pictures, that the person in question agreed to being photographed, and that fact was never questioned. The whole discussion must thus be centered on if consent for publication is implicit when the model accepts the artist proposal, unless otherwise is stated. Who is left with the burden of proof? Well, usually it is the accusation part. Therefore, the model, and putting the discussion strictly under the rule of Law, must prove that consent for publication was never even considered and clearly out of the relationship between artist and model. But does anyone imagine that a photograph is taken to be left latent and hidden under undeveloped silver salts? Certainly not, a photograph is a physical object and when someone accepts to be photographed is conscious that public exposure is not a remote possibility. So, the conflict is, in my opinion, too complex to be dealt with within the sphere of Law. It is a matter of privacy, and the final decision must be left for the artist and model. Nevertheless, other issues, directly related with western Art, arise from this unexpected conflict.
As Alexandre Pomar puts it, nude is in the centre of western art. It is ironic that these images, taken in London during the “libertarian” atmosphere of sixties, are now the object of a kind of censorship (legitimate or not, but that is not question right now). And we may speculate (ok, I admit some inside information here) if all this noise does not arise from the bad relation that some old “libertarians” have now with freedom of expression, today so easily restrained by the political correctness of the progressive movements. Sometimes it seems that the body of a woman cannot be depicted, in nowadays, without someone pointing the finger at the artist and the media, accusing them of exploitation. Feminism is also a contemporary form of (mental) dictatorship. This moralism was, until recently, restricted to advertising and to the commercial use of photography, but now it seems that Art is the next victim of the modern censorship. Are these new moralists any different from those that raged at the sight of Manet’s Olympia? I don’t think so. It all comes down to an idea of a perfect world and the propensity to impose that utopia to other people. And if these crusades amputate an artist’s body of work, Cutileiro’s or any other, well, that doesn’t seem to bother the “thought police”. Shall we burn the core of western art just to satisfy the Torquemada’s apprentices?
Note: these thoughts are independent of ethical issues, which I think should be kept within the privacy of the artist and the model. With this text, I only aim at questioning the character of the photographic medium and the legitimacy of the Law to deal with such complex problems. In addition, I speculate on the real reasons behind all this controversy, wandering why such images triggered the indignation of so many people, spreading irate commentaries through some Portuguese weblogs and emails received by the persons involved. The details of this controversy supplied the MacGuffin for some considerations on modern censorship and the real motives behind the Cutileiro’s affair can be quite different from the conjectures above. As a final remark, I must say, again, that this is a personal opinion that doesn’t necessarily reflects P4’s official position.
Carlos Miguel Fernandes