Ovenden, Graham. (3 of 5). Oral History of British Photography

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    BL, London, United Kingdom

  • Interviewees

    Ovenden, Graham 1943- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lau, Grace (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 3. In 1964, Graham Ovenden (GO) took his last East End series of photographs at Waterloo Station, of a nude girl child. "Being a romantic and a raving perv at the same time, the girl child is pure and corrupt at the same time,) These are in "State of Grace". Refers to his major court case in the USA which was bigger than the Mapplethorpe case and came out before the Mapplethorpe case. Quotes "denial is as much corruption and perversion as excess"; both sides are polarities between normality. GO believes American society is based on denial, so it's basically a corrupt and perverted society. That applies to censorship in photography; it's either crass censorship or pornography with nothing in between, in America. But what happens in between is what we call 'art'. Refers to when a selection of his girl nudes in 'State of Grace' (published by Ophelia, printed in Hong Kong) was seized by American Customs. But he won the court case and it's now legally available in the States. It was actually published in Amsterdam but now Holland has gone from being the most liberal to the most draconian on child nudity. In liaison with the FBI, his publishers were raided in Amsterdam and 1,200 copies were seized and probably destroyed. The 30 drawings were taken by the American Customs. The FBI thought he was running a paedophile organisation and sent agents to the Tate Gallery (which has some GO artwork) to investigate. GO believes Pollock and Rothko were funded by the CIA in late 50's/60's. America decided they needed a major modern culture to be dominant in the world in opposition to Communism. They picked on a totally sexually neutral art which ties in with the American psyche of neurosis and vulnerability. So they picked on non-figurative art that cannot frighten; it being the perfect media to exploit as a major culture. Just like the Nazis. America is a fascist country. In Britain, obscenity laws are fudged. Child nudity is not banned, they use the word 'indecent'. The court works in emotive ways, but the media have been on his side. "The combination of sentimentality and neurosis is the most powerful weapon in the world." Up to 1886, the age of consent was thirteen. Then the puritan view (ref. Cromwell's destruction of cathedrals) and supreme works of art suddenly became pornography to be destroyed. Refers to censorship and America's religious fundamentalism. GO's new work with computers, making use of existing imagery which is too good to destroy but not quite sufficient. Deeply interested in images of the child nude which has now been 'imprisoned by society, behind bars, sexual and emotive imprisonment'. Because of this present repression of the soul America's next generation will be neurotic in 20 years time. "I never use the word erotic. Great works of Western erotic art also happens to be grat works of art" (ref. Sheba in the Louvre and Botticelli's spiritually sensual work.) Eroticism is part and parcel of art. Refers to Cezanne's 'Bathers' which is totally negative in terms of sexuality; it has all the aesthetics of art but the morality behind it is totally bankrupt; Cezanne didn't understand the female form. The nude is a great subject, both for darkness and for light, in both photography and in painting. Photography goes beyond what painting can do in terms of the 'human condition' (ref. Cameron). GO mentions his collection of 'Titanic' images; how a photo of the Titanic, although not a work of art,becomes an icon withall the potency and qualities of a work of art. Like the Belsen photographs, and those of Lewis Hines, are utterly horrifying, and takes on immense power; such is the quality of photography. Works of art can be actually created. Ref. his East End photos, they were intuitive, about mystery, anguish, reality. Photography can hold that instance.

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