The controversial photograph shows Shields nude in a bathtub. Photo: Gary Gross
In 1975, a ten year-old Brooke Shields stood for a portrait from photographer Gary Gross. Urged by a mother eager to make her daughter a star, Shields posed naked in a bathtub, oiled and done up in make-up. Shortly thereafter the family signed away the picture’s rights to Gross. Since then the photo has been at the center of over three decade’s worth of controversy and dispute.
Now, 35 years later, the infamous photograph is back in the headlines. Officials at London’s Tate Museum had planned to present a photograph of the original at an exhibit called “Pop Life: Art In A Material World.” Created by artist Richard Prince, the piece (dubbed “Spiritual America”) is supposed to be a disturbing commentary on the sexualisation and commodification of youth in America.
Needless to say, not everyone recognizes the artistic merits of pictures of naked children. Kid’s rights activists claim the exhibit is a virtual “magnet for pedophiles,” and say that allowing a photograph of this nature only encourages the abuse of other innocent children.
“It is certainly not art,” said Michele Elliot, founder of Kidscape, a U.K. organization that fights to stop child abuse. “Brooke Shields was 10 years old when this picture was taken. She could not have given informed consent to it being used. It must be bordering on child pornography.”
She added, “if you are using a picture of a naked child to bring people to your exhibition, then you are exploiting that child. It’s as if they are using a 10-year-old girl for bait. I find it disturbing and they should be ashamed of themselves.”
After a visit from London’s Metropolitan Police on tuesday, it was decided the controversial photograph would be indefinitely removed from the exhibit. Officials are currently debating whether or not the photograph is illegal and violates Great Britain’s Obscene Publications Act, or if it can be deemed of artistic value.