Censorship Exhibitions News Australia

Tourist board in Australia censors photo screening

Images by world-class photographers deemed not “family-friendly”

James Nachtwey’s Rwanda, 1994, previously won a World Press Photo Award

The curator-director of an international documentary photography festival has told The Art Newspaper how he lost control of his own event when the New South Wales government tourism agency heavily censored an outdoor screening of images by some of the world’s leading photographers.

Destination NSW had invited Stephen Dupont, a well-known Australian photographer, to run the Reportage festival (25 May-13 June) under the umbrella of the Vivid Sydney public arts event. But days before the three-week festival opened, Sandra Chipchase, the agency’s chief executive, told him to remove images from a screening that was to take place in Circular Quay because they were “not in keeping with the values of the event”. Work by around half of the 35 featured photographers was affected.

“Vivid Sydney is a family-friendly event,” Chipchase said in an official statement. According to local media, she said that some of the images were threatening to families. “What we don’t want is children walking around the corner and seeing pictures of dead children,” she was quoted as saying.

Chipchase said that she had contractual rights to veto images included in Reportage, and that all the content deleted from the screening could still be seen in other, enclosed, venues.

Dupont and the other photographers were puzzled by Chipchase’s deletions. Pictures of fire-ravaged bushland by Andrew Quilty were taken out, although they showed no damage to people or structures. Images by another Australian photographer, Conor Ashleigh, of a family living a bush lifestyle were also removed, although there was no nudity or graphic violence, Dupont said.

The American photographer James Nachtwey was astonished to learn that his picture of a young Rwandan man with scars from the tribal violence of the 1990s had been removed. “It won the World Press [Photo] Award,” he told us just before he left Sydney. “It was seen by millions and millions of people of all ages. So the censorship of that picture was an exercise in futility.”

Another of the photographs by Nachtwey that was removed was a close-up of a drug addict’s foot on a used syringe. “They’re saying that [it] promotes drug use,” Dupont said. “That’s completely idiotic. If anything, it goes the other way.”

Some of the images from “We Met a little early, but i get to love you longer”, Raphaela Rosella’s 2011 series about teenage mothers, were censored. One was a picture of a pregnant stomach. “I was angry because it was censoring someone’s story that I would try hard to tell, so in my eyes, [Chipchase] was silencing young mothers,” Rosella said.

Dupont said he was also told to remove images of Japan after the 2011 tsunami, taken by Daniel Berehulak, as well as photographs by Yuri Kozyrev, Paula Bronstein, Ashley Gilbertson, Tim Page, Francesco Zizola and David Burnett—plus work by Dupont himself.

The South African photographer Jodi Bieber removed Real Beauty, an image of an Afghan woman with her nose cut off, which was used on the cover of Time magazine in 2010, “in solidarity”, Dupont said.

In inner-city Paddington, the Australian Centre for Photography expressed solidarity with Reportage by screening the deleted photographs in its shop-front window.

Dupont believes that Destination NSW failed to realise the calibre of the photographers featured in Reportage. “Many of them have risked their lives [to get their photographs],” he said. “Nachtwey is one of the most famous documentary photographers in the world.

“I sat in a meeting with these guys [from Destination NSW] and said: ‘I don’t think you quite understand who these people are. Let me enlighten you. If this was the film festival, what we are dealing with is Scorsese, Spielberg and Cate Blanchett.’ How could this happen in this country in 2013?”

Nachtwey said the photographers in the festival had been selected “expressly for their integrity and compassion and commitment to human values. Their work admonishes society about the effects of violence and conflict, poverty and oppression, and the real consequences they have for real people.”

Also banned: David Burnett’s Iran, 1979
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12 Aug 13
16:3 CET


I think what has happen here is a very good refection of the Australian art scene. A complete inability to self reflect, ask the tough questions and go beyond just a pretty art work.

12 Aug 13
15:54 CET


Whoever is doing the censoring is damaging both themselves and the show itself. They have no right to act as self appointed censors, that's the start of a very slippery slope. As a retired photojournalist, I blush for them, the "unenlightened" committee.

7 Aug 13
15:2 CET


It is interesting to note that Destination NSW and Arts NSW are in the same government department (DTIRIS). I probably wouldn't have made the same decision but if you don't want the govt interference then don't take the govt money. Simple really.

2 Aug 13
16:35 CET


Hiding reality from children does not make them stronger or more resilient. Cocooning children severely impedes their ability to judge risk objectively. First world children live in an ocean of of media. They are assaulted with messages to consume, to be thin, rich, happy. Children should be exposed to a little more reality every year as they grow older, in a way that takes into account their age and stage of development.

1 Aug 13
15:34 CET


Are we really becoming that afraid of showing ourselves and our children the fact, that a world exist outside our own? This is sad.

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