Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Teachable moment? Binh there, Danh that

Photographers in Eugene should make a note to see Binh Danh's talk this Friday, June 5th, 3 pm at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum. The lecture coincides with Danh's current photography show at the museum featuring his brilliant daguerreotypes and several chlorophyll prints using a unique process that Danh invented. I've signed up for Danh's daguerrotype workshop on Saturday. I have no idea what to expect which guarantees that it'll be interesting. The workshop is booked but observers are welcome to watch from the sidelines.

(6/4/9 Addendum: Bob Keefer has a review of Danh's show in this morning's Register Guard)

Angkor Wat, 2008, Daguerreotype by Binh Danh
Courtesy of the artist and Haines Gallery/San Francisco

Speaking of Eugene photo shows, the censorship bug infected our sometimes smallminded town last week. A proposed photography show at a local elementary school was cancelled Saturday because it included an image of a transgender person.

Tobi Hill-Meyer, the transgendered subject of the photo in question

I may be fairly libertarian when it comes to censorship but I agree there are boundaries. Some types of images are inappropriate for a school setting. Photographs of weapons or conflict, racial disparagement, or hardcore porn are a few that come to mind.

I don't think a portrait of a transgender person belongs in the same category. Transexuality is part of the world. It's not evil or good on its own, but it's out there and we may as well recognize it. The main reason to object to such a photo seems to be that it is exotic material which might cause kids to raise uncomfortable questions about sexuality. Parents want to reserve for themselves the right to introduce such subjects, so they cancelled the show.

My hunch is that any parent who objects to such material in their school is unlikely to introduce it at home. Can you imagine the scene at the dinner table? "So, Johnny, sit down a minute. Did I ever tell you about cross dressing and sex changes?" Sorry but it ain't gonna happen.

A primary opportunity for such a kid to be exposed to those issues in a positive setting —unlike violence, racism, drugs, or porn which every kid will encounter in their own sweet time— is probably at school. That's what makes the decision to pull the show so disappointing. Puritan censors can put another notch in their belt while the rest of us parents can focus on raising responsible exhibitionists.

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