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November 30, 2016

David Hamilton, World Famous Photographer/Filmmaker, Dies

PARIS, France—Few modern lensmen have been the source of as much controversy as U.K.-born David Hamilton, an artist who, over the past 40 years, has inspired ongoing dialog (dare one say argument?) about the line between fine art and child pornography, even into this past week, when one of his models from 1987 came forward with the accusation that a "photographer at a nudist camp in the South of France" (supposedly Hamilton, although she did not directly name him) had raped her when she was 13 years old. It is not known whether the accusation, which Hamilton strenuously denied, led to his reported suicide (police are still investigating) on Nov. 25 in his Paris apartment. He was 83. Since that charge by French radio and television personality Flavie Flament in her memoir The Consolation, two of Hamilton's other former models came forth with similar accusations, and Flament has stated that several more had contacted her personally with the same allegations. It is perhaps fitting that Hamilton's life ended in the midst of controversy, a state that had occupied much of his working life. A child of World War II, Hamilton's first job was as an architect's assistant, but at age 20, he moved into graphic design, first in Paris, for Elle magazine, then in London, where he became the art director for Queen magazine, and finally back in France again to serve as the art director for the Printemps department store. It was while working for Queen that Hamilton bought his first camera, and after quitting Printemps, he began his career as a commercial photographer, Hamilton's style was usually soft-focus and a bit grainy, and his work quickly generated offers from several magazines including Réalités, Twen and Photo. Once Hamilton's style was firmly established in the 1960s, he went on to publish more than 30 books and portfolios of his work between 1971 and 2007. He also directed five softcore erotic movies within that period—almost all of his work focusing on young girls, many of whom he photographed in the nude. And that's where he started to get into trouble. As those who follow free speech issues are aware, with the elimination of the "Fairness Doctrine" by the Federal Communications Commission in 1987, which had required broadcasters to provide equal time to all (or at least the major) sides of a broad range of controversial issues of public importance, AM talk radio took a hard right turn into conservatism, enabling first Rush Limbaugh and then scores of right-wing talk show hosts (includ ing Operation Rescue's Randall Terry) to preach religio-conservative values to the listening public. This, along with the rise of conservative clergy like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Paul Weyrich and others, quickly led to what is now known as the "Religious Right"—and one of the first targets of that movement was sexually oriented material. Although Randall Terry's main cause was the anti-abortion rights movement, he too was outspoken about the "obscenity" being sold in the nation's bookstores, and he particularly targeted the Barnes & Noble chain since it was the largest in the country. Terry used his radio program to push for his listeners both to protest in front of Barnes & Noble stores and to file complaints with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, urging them to raid the stores and seize what he described as "child pornography"; notably, the photography books of David Hamilton and similar ones by Jock Sturges. "They've been shopping around, and they got a district attorney," Barnes & Noble Chairman and CEO Leonard Riggio told New York Times reporter Doreen Carvajal in February of 1998. ''The First Amendment is loud and clear. It's not an issue. It's a law, it's a statement. And the First Amendment is very clear that people have a choice to buy and use what they want to read." But not everyone was as openminded as Riggio, most notably Alabama Attorney General William H. Pryor, Jr., who, at the instigation of local Operation Rescue director David Lackey, got 32 indictments against the Barnes & Noble chain for selling, among other works, Hamilton's Age of Innocence and Sturges' Radiant Identities and The Last Days of Summer, on charges that the works were child pornography. (A few weeks later, Times critic Sarah Boxer described Age of Innocence as "full of simpering, soft-focus pictures of naked girls with budding breasts, paired with quotations about their forthcoming deflowering" and "the essence of icky.") Many anti-censorship groups came to Hamilton's and Sturges' defense, and eventually the child porn charges were thrown out of court—but that was hardly the end of it. Even as late as November, 2010, Stephen Neal was convicted in British criminal court of "Level 1" possession of four books of alleged child pornography, containing what the Crown's prosecutor described as "indecent images." One of the books was Hamilton's Age of Innocence.  Trouble was, however, that all of the books Neal possessed were found to be available for purchase on Amazon.com UK, and within three months, Neal's conviction had been overturned by England's Court of Appeal, with Lord Justice Richards stating, "It is, however, very unfair for a person in the position of Mr. Neal to be prosecuted for possession of the photographs in these books in these circumstances. If the Crown Prosecution Service wishes to test whether the pictures in the books are indecent, the right way to deal with the matter is by way of prosecuting the publisher or retailer—not the individual purchaser." Still, although he had been married twice, the new accusations do raise questions about Hamilton's own sexuality—even though Flament said that she only rememberd the rape about four years ago, allegedly because she had been so traumatized by the event that she'd repressed the memories. And while the reliability of repressed memory recovery remains controversial, Flament may be equally accurate in remembering that, according to her interview with The Sunday Times of London, "at one photo shoot, in his apartment in Cap d’Agde, in the South of France, Mr. Hamilton appeared at the door naked, wearing only a camera around his neck." (Perhaps not so strange if, as Flament herself described, Hamilton did much of his work at French nudist colonies.) "That would have been a good moment for my mother to say, 'O.K., we’re leaving now,'" Flament recalled, "but instead it was just, 'What time shall I pick her up?'" For his part, Hamilton had denied Flament's charges, saying shortly before his death, "I am innocent and must be considered so. The instigator of this media lynching is seeking her quarter of an hour of fame through slander." BTW, William H. Pryor, Jr., is on President-elect Donald Trump's short list for nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

 
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