Jock Sturges, American (1947 - )

Jock Sturges

Jock Sturges has long been a lightning rod for controversy for his distinctive brand of nude photography. Sturges shoots much of his work around nudist beaches in France and northern California, and his most frequent subjects have been adolescent girls. The photos have an undeniably erotic quality, unlike some types of nude photography that treat the human body more as abstract form. However, Sturges aims to draw out the models' own sense of burgeoning sexuality in a straightforward, personal, non-voyeuristic way. Sturges uses a large-format camera to create extremely detailed, finegrained images, while his strong feel for sunlight bathes his models and settings with a shimmering quality. In his writings, Sturges prides himself on the bonds of trust, friendship and collaboration between the photographer, the models and their families. Many of his photographs depict several generations naked together.

Some critics have condemned his work as thinly disguised underage pornography hiding behind the mantle of fine art. To be fair, the market for Sturges's books certainly includes a great many adult males who like looking at naked teenage girls and who have little use for the photographs' artistic qualities. Sturges and his defenders sometimes disingenuously proclaim the "innocence" of his pictures of nude adolescents. In a more legitimate line of argument, Sturges criticizes the arbitrary division of people and their bodies into sexualized adults (over 18) and supposedly asexual children (under 18). The question really is: Should tasteful, non-exploitative erotic photography of adolescents be allowed? Is such a thing even possible? The photography of Jock Sturges presents a powerful case for the affirmative.

Not surprisingly, Sturges has faced legal threats throughout his career. In April 1990, FBI agents raided his studio, confiscated his equipment and work, and charged him with child pornography. Both the art world and the naturist communities publicly came to his defense. After more than a year of investigation, a grand jury threw out the case against Sturges. An expensive lawsuit eventually got Sturges his work and equipment back, though some had been damaged beyond repair.

In the mid 1990s, his work came under attack again, this time from christian conservatives led by Operation Rescue (led by Randall Terry, best known for anti-abortion protests) and Focus on the Family (led by James Dobson). Protesters picketed major bookstores around the country for carrying books by Jock Sturges, David Hamilton and others which included photographs of nude adolescents. At some stores, protesters committed civil disobedience by openly vandalizing the books. And in two cases (both in the South), they managed to convince prosecutors to indict Barnes & Noble bookstores on child pornography and obscenity charges. Again, Sturges received strong public support from artistic and civil libertarian organizations. Sturges himself aggressively defended his work in a series of talks and interviews.

Jock Sturges received a BA in Perceptual Psychology and Photography from Marlboro College, and an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute. His published collections include: The Last Day of Summer (1991), Radiant Identities (1994), Jock Sturges (1996), and Jock Sturges: New Work 1997-2000 (2000).

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