A father responded to criticism over photographs of his 2-year-old daughter by creating a gallery show, featuring her photos and hateful comments about them made by people online.
In 2014, award-winning photographer Wyatt Neumann went on a road trip with his daughter Stella, taking pictures of their entire journey along the way. But in some of the pictures, Stella was not wearing any clothes.
Neumann posted some of his photos on social media. During the trip, some didn’t take kindly to the images, specifically those of Stella, calling them “perverse,” “sick” and “pornographic.”
Facebook and Instagram then shut down his accounts and his artist website was also criticized by members of the group. His accounts were eventually brought back online.
Neumann didn’t mind that other people were expressing their opinions about his work, but he says the “forced censorship” was a bit exaggerated.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, he explained:
The anonymous public made their opinions about my work. It was the actions they took against me, the reality for me was that these people could actually affect my ability to express myself. They took down my Instagram and Facebook; those are huge digital platforms for a photographer. It had a physical effect on my ability to communicate with people. The fact that they had that ability to control my experience in this life made me want to fight back. I really believe that the work is beautiful and [reveals] the innocence of childhood.
In response, Neumann created a new series, juxtaposing all the hate with the corresponding photos he insists are innocent.
The Safari Gallery exhibition and book, titled "I FEEL SORRY FOR YOUR CHILDREN — The Sexualization of Innocence in America,” which examines the public backlash against his photos, and thriving off shame and censorship in today’s culture.
In Neumann’s artist statement, he says:
What’s troubling is the abject reviling of the human body, the intense and overt sexualization of the natural human form, especially the naked bodies of carefree young children, who have yet to feel the burden of institutionalized body image awareness and the embarrassment that comes with adolescence. My children are free, they live without shame.
The exhibition proudly displays Neumann’s work, and raises important questions asked by online critics, as he concludes in his statement:
So the choice seems clear: do we live in fear and condemnation? Or do we celebrate one another, and ourselves, in this life? I choose to believe in our ability to fight fear with love, ignorance with understanding, and to unite rather than divide. But you be the judge… is this pornography, art, expression, or exploitation. It’s up to us to either cower in fear, or liberate ourselves and live.
Below are some of the images along with the negative feedback from anonymous internet users, as shown in Neumann’s exhibition. (Warning: The following comments contain strong language that some may find offensive.)
"He seems like a dick. I want to puke. The nude photos are gross and disturbing." -tunawhiskers, April 25, 2014 4:09pm
"Every good thing you are and every good thing you do is cancelled out by the fact that you exploit your children. You truly have no right to do this to them." -skeptical girl is skeptical, April 26, 2014 1:55pm
"Way to serve your daughter up on a plate, sicko. I will be sure to email you directly when I find this image being traded on the deep web, Wyatt, you sick fuck." -your mirror lied to you, April 26, 2014 10:27am
"I am a licensed clinical social worker and I work with abused children and adults every day. I have listened to children tell me about their parents selling them for sex to buy drugs, about parents who locked them away in closets for hours at a time without food or water because they wouldn’t stop crying, about parents who beat their children to within an inch of their life, just for being a child. Wyatt, you clearly hold yourself to a higher esteem than those people, but I don’t. You are no better than they are."
"What a disgusting father." -WTF, April 26, 2014 10:20am
Photo Credits: Wyatt Neumann