I FEEL SORRY FOR YOUR CHILDREN: Some Call It Child Pornography, Some Call It Art

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Wyatt Neumann took to Instagram to post photos he took of his daughter on a road trip. While she was clothed in some images, she was fully or partially nude in a number of them as well. But to Neumann, there was nothing unusual about a two-year-old girl without clothes. What he though was perfectly innocent, many called child pornography. The extreme hatred grew across the Internet, and overnight, his Instagram account was shut down.

Eventually, Newmann's Facebook was shut down, too. Comments flooded all his social media platforms and email inboxes with statements like, "He's an attention seeking fuck. Wake up, Wyatt, you fucking piece of shit."

This response led Neumann to build a gallery show (which he titled after one of these comments), I FEEL SORRY FOR YOUR CHILDREN: The Sexualization of Innocence in America. In fact, Neumann turned many of these comments into a key part of the show in which juxtaposed these quotes with the images that were being commented on. The show, which was held at the Safari Gallery, closed August 21st, but remains online in an entirely different way -- perhaps in its more original form. Comments can still be seen on Neumann's social media accounts, which were turned back on with the "legitimization" of his work through his show.

Naturally, this hatred, along with the temporary shutdown of Newmann's Internet accounts raises questions about censorship, the first amendment and child pornography laws. Does it matter that it was the father that took the photographs and not a stranger? Would one be "better" than the other? Are these photographs truly pornographic? Or is this a view that, perhaps, viewers bring to the table themselves? Does it matter if other, perhaps truly sick, people are sexually aroused by these images despite their original intentions? Does that mean all sexually arousing images, regardless of how we measure that, should be banned from the Internet? Some people are stimulated by inanimate objects and animals. Some may think that is sick, but it's a fact. So where does that leave us? And if "America" is so shy of nudity, why?

Personally, I think the images speak for themselves. There is purely innocence, here. Sexualization isn't created purely from the fact that she is not clothed. She's two years old! Who didn't walk around naked at two? Seeing these images in such a sexualized light in and of itself is, I believe, rather odd. And these are all views that were apparently echoed by hundreds of parents' decisions to take their own children to the gallery show.

In this context, Sally Mann's work simply cannot be ignored. Anyone who remembers the outrage with her images will instantly recognize a similarity in Newmann's situation. While it could be argued that a conversation about child pornography, art and nudity in general hasn't had the same attention given Mann's media circus until now, it is notable that in this case, it is the father that is the photographer, not the mother. Does this change your opinions in any way? What's your opinion?

Note: In the past, readers have commented about the NSFW tag applied to some posts. This decision does not signify our opinions on topics brought up in this post as a group nor as individuals. In this case, it is simply a precaution to be on the "more than safe" side for those in more conservative settings that still wish to read some of the great content Fstoppers provides. Additionally, plenty of the language is quite explicit. Thank you in advance for understanding our choice to keep this content tagged for mature audiences.

"He’s an attention seeking fuck. Wake up, Wyatt, you fucking piece of shit." -SelenaKyle, April 26, 2014 8:59am

"This man is a sick fuck. Why in the world would you do this to your child? Great job, Wyatt Neumann. That poor little girl…" - Ships Go Overboard aka It Burns, April 26, 2014 6:23pm

"I doubt she’ll ever be in a real school, have any real friends, or develop any real attachments to anything because that would be counterproductive to the isolation her parents probably want to keep her and her brother in. I’ll bet the only people they’re around are their parents 'like-minded' adult friends, a healthy portion of which are probably pedophiles that they’re too blind to see are right there waiting to get their children alone for 5 minutes." - NamelyThis, April 26, 2014 12:47pm

"I am a licensed clinical social worker and I work with abused children and adults every day. I have listened to children tell me about their parents selling them for sex to buy drugs, about parents who locked them away in closets for hours at a time without food or water because they wouldn’t stop crying, about parents who beat their children to within an inch of their life, just for being a child. Wyatt, you clearly hold yourself to a higher esteem than those people, but I don’t. You are no better than they are."

"What a disgusting father." - WTF, April 26, 2014 10:20am

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53 Comments

Anonymous's picture

I saw this show when I was back in NYC and I was impressed with his work and how he handled the criticism. It's cool to see him get support from the photo community.

Zach Sutton's picture

Honestly, and I'm not trying to offend anyone here. I think a lot of people are struggling to call it art because the images aren't exactly well produced. It's shock value without substance.

WHY is a kid going to the shitter "shock value"??

I think if THAT has shock value, it's the society that needs counseling, not the dad!

Jason Ranalli's picture

I wouldn't say it's shock value as being a parent there's little shock for me seeing a child go to the bathroom, however, it's a poor attempt at shock value IMO as there is little in else in that photo that is captivating to me.

OSVALDO VÁZQUEZ's picture

Could you please explain to me why the fact that they aren't supposedly well produced takes from the fact that this can be called art? I'm so eager to hear your oppinion wich I think will be smart and so meaningful because from my point of view art is kind of subjective and the artists did have a well based strong point for his work, wich also makes me think you are just a hater, but of course I may be wrong, I better see your answer first.

Zach Sutton's picture

Sure.

First, lets talk composition. In over half of the images, she is centered in the frame. This is typically not how you'd like to shoot, as it makes the overall image seem uninteresting, and doesn't bring attention to the subject as much. Fstoppers writer has down two pieces on composition just recently, and they're exceptional reads if you'd like to know more about correctly composing an image.

Second, the overall toning and sharpness of the images. Many of the images look too sharp, and have a borderline "HDR effect applied to this. This was probably done using the clarity slider in Lightroom or ACR. Doing this brings detail to things in the image, rather than the subject. Take the one with her sitting in the road for example. The clarity in those images is so high, that the most attention grabbing detail is actually the pavement in front of her, and not the subject itself. All of them have a heavy vignette applied to the images. This is a result of either bad equipment, or done in post to bring the attention back to the subject. The end result is laziness. You shouldn't have to use vignettes and other tools to bring attention to different pieces of the image.

Finally, color. The overall color tones brought out in these images were quite apparently done in post. The blue sky creates a very obvious gradient from top to bottom. While the skytones do adjust throughout the sky, it's never that drastic and prevalent. It's quite obvious (to me at least) that this was done using either the saturation slider or vibrance slider in Lightroom.

There is nothing (to me) interesting in these images aside from the subject matter that they've been swept into. The lighting all all of them is either terribly flat, or done obviously with an on camera flash. Many of the images are just lazy with the composition (Why would you shoot a subject with a bunch of white trucks in the background). And the end result is photos we'd otherwise look at and never think about again.

I believe that in order for something to be considered art, it has to have the ability to move you, emotionally. None of these images do that for me, or (again, in my opinion...cause all art is subjective) anyone else who has an appreciation for art.

Robert Raymer's picture

Zach,

While I do not disagree with you about anything you said, I took something completely different away from the video and article. True, most of the images themselves are nothing special. They look just like many of the snapshots I take of my kids. I find them doing something interesting, take the most well composed shot an active 3 or 5 year old will let me take with a phone, throw some filters and quick cell phone retouching on, and perhaps throw it up on instagram or Facebook so my friends or followers can get a look into my life and so I have images of my kids growing up being themselves, much like an old fashion photo album from when I was a kid (which I know had plenty of bare butts and bath pictures of me and my sisters).

I also think the images are quite different from those of Sally Mann, who was referenced in the article, for a number of reasons. First, Mann's more controversial images focused on children much older, usually in their early teens, who, unlike a two year old, at least have the capacity to understand that society in general expects that they would be clothed most of the time, even if they do not personally always feel the need to be, and she knew this. Additionally, unlike the photographer in this article who seems to only have intended to share the images on instagram, Mann was a professional photographer who shot the images knowing that they would be controversial in nature, with the intention to publish them professionally in the form of prints, shows, and books, and in this case, intention means a lot. Lastly, Mann's work prior to her more controversial images starting in the early to mid 80's also focused a great deal on the body and included many nudes. This is not to take a position on Mann or her work, but just to pint out that other than the nature of the controversy, they do not seem to be to be related.

I know nothing of this guy other than what I have seen in the video. He may be the best or worst photographer in the world, I couldn't tell you. I couldnt tell you anything about his previous work or even if he is a "professional" photographer. What I can say is that the show itself seems important/impressive as much (if not more) because of the message as the images.

I have been in his situation. Both of my children spend a good portion of the day running around in various states of undress, especially my youngest (my oldest has mostly grown out if it and understands the need for clothes, not so much my youngest one). As a result, a large number of pictures that document what they are really like also contain them in various states of undress. However, unlike him, I choose not to post any pictures unless they are fully dressed. Not because I feel there is anything wrong with the way my kids act (they are just being kids), and not because I feel they are inappropriate or sexualized (I don't), but because I have never felt like dealing with what I figured was the inevitable response that he received from the self appointed moral guardians of the internet.

Which is why I am so impressed with what he did. He took the fight back to them. He took their own harsh words and juxtaposed them with the obviously non sexual images of his daughter being herself, and in doing so pointed out that despite their moral high ground, they are at least as guilty as, and that maybe the problem lies not with documenting kids being themselves, but with holier than thou adults who are reading into the issue and creating sexuality where it doesnt really exist.

And regardless of ones point of view, whether you think they are purely innocent snapshots or intentionally produced child porn, the show got people talking and discussing the matter. To me that makes the show a success regardless of how well composed or produced the images themselves were.

OSVALDO VÁZQUEZ's picture

So, at the end you elegantly add that only people without art appreciation would like these pictures, wich of course I definitely disagree with, but that's another subject. The important part here is that you didn't answer my question. You started saying some bullshit about rules and all that crap that is not NECESSARY for a good photography. Of course it can be useful and a plus but definitely not necessary and I can link to you some examples for your enlightment (unfortunately not from Fstoppers). You mentioned on camera flash as if it was a reason for trashy pictures and It just reminded me about an article on Fstoppers with Terry Richardson. And I think you mentioned the trucks because you didn't even read the article were it clearly explains that the father was traveling with her daugther so the trucks are not a theme itself, are part of the trip enviroment wich makes it valid, I'm amaze you didn't make the same argument with the pavement picture or any other for that matter.

So, my question was why the fact that they aren't supposedly well produced takes from the fact that this can be called art? It's telling something to people and the message it's clear, you didn't get the message? That's what art is mostly about, not only perfectly lit subjects with thousands of dollars of wardrove and skinny models in a perfectly closed enviroment with the help of dozens of specialists like MUAs, stylist, assistants, photoshop experts and all that makes the fact of taking a fashion photography just clicking a camera. If it were like that photography would be so damn easy and boring IMHO.

Anonymous's picture

Zach: you say that "I believe that in order for something to be considered art, it has to have the ability to move you, emotionally. None of these images do that for me, or (again, in my opinion...cause all art is subjective) anyone else who has an appreciation for art."

I suppose that once you become a parent, your appreciation for art goes out the window? Because any parent would be emotionally moved by this photo essay on a father-daughter road trip. But if we are to believe your comment, no one who has any taste would like these. Frankly, an offensive and totally tone-deaf comment. Here's a towel; dry off from your swim in Lake Zach.

Lady Gaga made a meat suit. Was that aesthetically pleasing? Hell no! Was it great performance art? Hell yes!

Would I hang these in my house? Meh, probably not. They're not really processed to my taste either. But the art in this project doesn't come from the perfect golden ratio composition of the images, or the flawless photoshop work. It comes from the capture of emotion. This photo series puts you right there, in the moment, of what it's like to travel with a little kid. Sometimes it's not glamorous; they really do have to pee on the side of the road, and love to run around naked. Yesterday I changed my baby daughter's diaper on a park bench, outside of the dumpling house where my wife and I were having dinner. As soon as her diaper was off, she cracked a big toothless smile when she felt the wind on her butt.

Life, and art, is not always about glamor and perfection. Maybe one day you'll have the pleasure of learning that.

Jon Trengereid's picture

Ouch... that made you sound like your 22 and just out of school...

The photos weren't created as art. They were snapshots. The "art" is the concept, the statement that someone can't snap innocent photos of their child without being labeled a pedofile.

Mike Kelley's picture

Sounds like a bunch of idle stay-at-home parents who need something to be angry at. I don't think the images are 'OMG AMAZING' but I think it's pretty interesting. That doesn't make the guy a pedophile. Get a life, go outside, and who the hell cares what other people do with their own time (and their own children, who are clearly having a lot of innocent fun). I think it's pretty telling that the first thing that crosses people's minds is 'child pornography' and 'masturbation' etc. That didn't even occur to me, just innocence and travel. These are like the least sexual images ever.

Michael Bonocore's picture

"These are like the least sexual images ever." Yeah, true...to us they aren't...but to someone else, they may be.

I'm sorry, but you seem to worry about THOSE images when 90% of all the posted images "popular photos" of this very site are MUCH more suggestive sexually than a kid playing naked...

Kids play naked ALL THE F'ing time. People need to get their shit straight. If a pedophile was looking for material to jack off, I'M pretty sure he would go looking at that.

Just like guys here i'm sure don't use that "popular photos" sections for some alone fun!

Sounds like some didn't have their coffee this morning or is a total Mr. Angry. What is making you so mad? Every has a right to their opinion on such polarizing subject matter. My kid never ran around naked, nor did any in our entire neighborhood that i'm aware, so your blanket statement is just that and incorrect.

Your kid never ran naked or in diapers?

Nothing to do with my coffe or my anger, only with how closed minded people have been so brainwashed by their TV that when they see a simple image of a kid playing in the dirt shirtless, they go straight for pedophile.

It's sad, pathetic and quite backwards, particularly when people start insulting and threatening the artist.

But that's just how it is in the states.

Also, I call bullshit on your kid never playing naked. NEVER in the minutes before bath, or after getting completely dirty without a spare outfit, etc...

Leif Sikorski's picture

That's an issue those people have then.
If humans in general do something unsexual while being naked and the first thing those people think of is something sexual or pornographic it's a "connection" or thought process that happens in their mind. This might be the result of people who grew up in prudity where the most natural thing, our own body, was turned into something shameful.

To most people those are just normal children having fun and exploring the world. I bet that most people have such pictures in their family album

I agree 100%. You have the sanctimommies going after this guy, plain and simple. I'm on a networking site for moms and half of them are absolutely nuts. They don't allow their husbands, the fathers of their children, to bathe or change diapers and I'm given a lot of crap because my son's afterschool daycare is all men (martial arts).

Brian MacLochlainn's picture

"I don't think the images are 'OMG Amazing'..." this is the one thing that happens when a bunch of photographers look at pictures of kids, they talk about whether they are frames right, processed right, are sharp. sometimes when it comes to this style of kids photo the one that is out of focus or poorly framed is the best shot because it is the exact moment when you know the kid is in the moment.

I think you are right, the people who look at these and think that they are porn have a serious issue. the one that made me laugh the most was the picture where she had two different plasters on her knees. just like my kids :)

BTW, great explanation of the use of the NSFW.

The images are not, the discussion is.

OSVALDO VÁZQUEZ's picture

I totally love the fact that the father fights against all that STUPIDITY of the people telling him he is wrong. If stupid common people think you are doing it wrong you may actually be doing it right. I'm inspired by him.

Jason Ranalli's picture

I don't think these pictures are going to be material for any pedophiles nor do I find them overtly sexual out there but frankly I'd never take pictures of my kid like this. I think the person who would throw their kid on display in this particular fashion is a bit of a d**che IMO. I think it's a lame attempt at shock value even though it's not really that shocking.

Just a kid being a kid... Nothing shocking here for anyone who has a daughter..

michael buehrle's picture

when i started to watch i was expecting much more "nudity" or whatever you wanna call it. people who are complaining about these and posting those comments need to look around and see what the world is doing around them. kids take off their clothes ALL the time and run around naked. they are kids. these pics are not even close to porn. if someone wants to jack off to these then they will do it to a kids underwear pic from the target flier too. these are just candid shots of his kid. would i have posted these ? probably not because of this. i do not have a problem with these, he probably should have thought about all the closed minded people out there though. i think america is way too closed minded about the naked body and if you show too much your labeled a perv or a porn addict or if you take a pic your even worse.

your not gonna change these peoples minds. they feel that they are right and you should believe what they do. if you don't them your wrong in their closed mind. it's too bad that social media companies are so afraid to stand up to whats right or wrong. there is a story about Facebook allowing a page to stay up about guys beating dogs but this is wrong ? there is down right porn on there but this is too much ? i don't get people sometimes.

I believe it's every parents right to take pictures of their children as they are and sometimes that means they are nakey. Heck, when you're two, most of your time is spent naked, because, well, clothes are buggy and they get in the way of whatever imaginary game you're playing.

Everyone has pictures similar to these. They are cute and innocent, nothing more.

Ralph Berrett's picture

Years ago when I first started shooting photojournalism, I would go look for free art, basically street photography. Kids playing was a natural subject. Now unless it is a news event, public event or an assignment I avoid photographing kids because of the potential hazards and hassles.

I remember shooting a T-Ball game for a story a kid slid into second and hurt nothing serious. The coach runs out of the dugout to check the and just as he was about comfort the kid stops and calls the parent done from the stand because he was afraid to touch the kid. So in manny ways we have gotten to over protective.

That said I do not view this as child porn but I do wonder if the kid is being pushed into photo situations much like the dark side of a little league parent, spelling bee parent, pageant mom or texas cheerleader mom. This is only because I have had to deal with these parents that put their own needs before the kids.

Did you read the story about the photo student who was assaulted by a nut job parent at the park? I've gotten to where I don't even want to take pictures of my own kid when there are other children around.

I'm 51. When I was 2, me and every other kid on the beach were naked. And we were all touching our private parts, as all kids do, and after that - we would do something else. Jumping around. Naked. Playing in the sand. Naked. And that was all. Good times. Where were all those 'moral' people then? Not yet born? Is the society in the last 10-15 years suddenly populated by a huge number of abnormally moral guardian angels?Where did they come from?
Here, I see a healthy, happy child and a loving father. Nothing more.

Media got hold of the "child porn" scare and mass produced hysteria around it. There are no more child abuse then there were in the 70's, look it up. I agree with you 100% but apparently, butt clenched american look at this and see a molested child.

Some would want to ban this yet you can find "Mine Kampf" anywhere. that says ALOT I think...

Hi Ody's picture

Astounding. Only in the last couple of days I saw a program that referenced Internet 'discussions'. One revealing fact stated was that the longer a discussion goes the closer the ratio of the likelihood of someone making a reference to Hitler or Nazi-ism gets to 1. The other interesting fact was that, irrespective how long the conversation/discussion has been going, it will end almost immediately a reference is made to either Hitler or Nazi-ism. Lo and behold, it has happened right here :-) - assuming of course the newest comment is at the bottom of the list and that I can't tell.

Relative to the topic under discussion, my humble opinion is that the photos themselves are not and should not be the issue. As parents we all have photos of our kids in various levels of undress. My wife and I certainly do. Would I publish them for the world to see? Absolutely not! Should any parent? As far as I'm concerned, absolutely not. That which, in my opinion, is private should remain private. What is the difference between publishing photos of kids naked and adults naked? The only difference as far as I'm concerned is that the adult knows the photos will be published and therefore agrees and acknowledges that by the fact the model allows them to be taken. Kids get no such choice.

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