Should photography lectures be censored?

Photography lecturer Simon Burgess teaches photography at East Surrey College. During the course in Higher National Diploma in Digital Photography he displayed photographs by the controversial photographer Del LaGrace Volcano. Apparently one or more of the second year students were less than impressed and have complained to the college. (British Journal of Photography)

Burgess has been called to a hearing to defend his actions and in the worst case he may be fired. The college told the British Journal of Photography: “Until the facts are raised in a hearing, we cannot comment about staff-related actions.”

It is good that the college wants to know the facts before discussing the problem with the media. BUT. The ability of students to complain about content is becoming strange. Should the lecturer teach what is important for students to learn or should the lecturer limit him/her self to teaching that which does not offend? This would, or should, our ability to teach to a very narrow set of subjects.

Del LaGrace Volcano may be controversial (see quote below) but this cannot in itself be a reason for complaint. It is a dangerous precedent when lecturers are asked to limit themselves to that which is acceptable – for the question is: acceptable to whom? The students are there to be educated, so in theory they should be less knowledgeable. Maybe they need their minds expanded?

As a gender variant visual artist I access ‘technologies of gender’ in order to amplify rather than erase the hermaphroditic traces of my body. I name myself. A gender abolitionist. A part time gender terrorist. An intentional mutation and intersex by design, (as opposed to diagnosis), in order to distinguish my journey from the thousands of intersex individuals who have had their ‘ambiguous’ bodies mutilated and disfigured in a misguided attempt at ‘normalization’. I believe in crossing the line as many times as it takes to build a bridge we can all walk across.

September 2005

Support for Burgess is growing, Dr Eugenie Shinkle, a senior lecturer in photographic theory and criticism at the University of Westminster’s school of media, arts and design writes (The Sauce):

Management are claiming it is pornography, salacious, grotesque, worthless and not relevant to, or appropriate for 2nd year level three photography students preparing for higher study. Apart from being censorious, backward, and homophobic, management’s stance displays a remarkable ignorance of contemporary debates and image-making strategies. This is a serious matter that has implications for all academics, teachers, and students.

I really hope that the college has the backbone to realize what it it there for and to support their lecturer.