The work of Australian photographer Bill Henson is a sensual journey into a dark, sensate, and ephemeral world. He is well-known for traversing and troubling the lines that demarcate time and space, identity, and artistic genre; as stated on the Tolarno Galleries website, he is an “explorer of twilight zones, between nature and civilization, youth and adulthood, male and female. His photographs are painterly tableaux that continue the traditions of romantic literature and painting” (Source). The mottled and dewy skin of his emotionally-rich subjects resembles the classical, artistic technique of chiaroscuro, wherein deep and murky shadows are used to create bold contrasts that illuminate the body in dramatic compositions. Similar to how your peripheral vision dims when you look at something bright in a dark room, the arched backs and turned faces of his models become the semi-obscured focus in his pieces, shrouding them in even more emotive and intangible beauty.
Henson is not without controversy, however. His work received a lot of criticism in 2008 due to complaints of indecency; his accusers deemed his images of nude teenagers as exploitative and inappropriately sexualized. His photographs were seized from exhibitions, and a public debate erupted regarding censorship. Later that year, it was settled. He would not be prosecuted, and the Australian Classification Board declared his work as “mild and justified” (Source).
Henson’s photography may evoke a sense of discomfort in some people, but to others, it resonates as passionate and melancholic portraits of youth. Many of us can probably relate to his imagery — those nights in our early adulthood, where we began to explore the possibilities and materialities of our post-pubescent bodies, connecting to them without shame, becoming self-aware of our own physical beauty, expressivity, and depth. Even his images of two or more models interacting do not seem pornographic; instead, we see people reaching, touching lightly, seeking connection, discovering the quivering electricity of the body when it comes into intimate proximity with others — the power of touch. Such nights and experiences remain forever in our memories. In this way, Henson’s work is less eroticized voyeurism than it is an exploration of our physical and emotional development.
A vast selection of Henson’s work from across the years can be seen at the Tolarno Galleries website, found here. Check out the rest of the dim and sensuous images after the jump, and please let us know how you respond intellectually/critically/emotionally to Henson’s photography in the comments below. (Via Juxtapoz)