An exhibition by Australian photographer Sean O’Carroll sparked a polemic from a part of the public because some of his photographs presented boys naked - or admittedly so – and holding guns. The photographs show the boys only from the waist and upwards, so nothing too intense is shown to the public, and the guns they are holding are obviously fake, although they don’t exactly look like toys but rather like, at worst, replicas.
I am personally not really appealed by this kind of art, but the debate around it can get interesting, although there are, and not to my surprise, still some useless points made by, notably, furious Australian caring mothers. The core of the art presented is not extremely interesting but to the contrary, the message it could carry can be :
« Sean says he is asking a question with these photos. He wants to get people thinking about young boys and masculinity and the messages about masculinity in society.
He asks ‘’What does this say about how we raise boys?’’ »
I read one of the mothers’ comment on a forum saying, ‘My sons played with toy guns from 3yrs of age’, and carries on commenting about how her other boy drew a gun in his hand in kindergarten drawing class, concluding that boys don’t need to be told that guns are good toys, that they are naturally attracted to them. Surprisingly, this is the type of comment I was referring to earlier but which can however lead to an interesting debate.
First I don’t believe at all, that kids, and especially boys, are attracted to guns from the moment of their birth ‘til the moment of their death. What makes them attracted to them is the simple fact that society builds up boys to be attracted to guns and girls to be attracted to barbies. Just as the simple fact that there are approximately 90% chances that you will also dress your baby-boy with blue and dress your baby-girl with pink. Generally speaking of course. This is not a pathetic attempt to judgemental statements towards the vicious leading forces of society. What I am saying is that society is like that whether we like it or not. In this perspective, Sean O’Carroll’s photographs can be interesting, although it might just be as effective and convenient to just ask the question directly instead of staging naked kids in a photograph studio in Melbourne. This is certainly a provocative mechanism to advertise his exhibition, in which case it can be considered clever.
Despite the interesting debate it initiates, if the only intrinsic value of his work is the provocative nature of it, it couldn’t really be called art could it ?