A protester threw urine on Jock Sturges’s photographs on display at the Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography in Moscow. (screenshot via Instagram)

A private museum in Moscow has shut down its retrospective of the work of US photographer Jock Sturges after state officials called his images of nude girls “propaganda of pedophilia,” a protester threw urine at his pictures, and officers in camouflage stormed the space, RT reported. 

Titled Absence of Shame, the exhibit opened at the Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography on September 8 with four decades’ worth of Sturges’ pictures. The photographer is best known for his sometimes controversial large-format images taken in nudist communes in France, California, and Ireland that depict naked children and teenagers, mostly girls, lounging on beaches and against trees. The Moscow exhibit only featured photographs of “semi-naked” children, according to RT. 

Not long after the opening, however, pro-Kremlin Senator Yelena Mizulina — who’s also currently the chairman of the Duma Committee on Family, Women and Children Affairs — said Sturges’s photographs of nude young girls qualified as child abuse and urged that the exhibit be closed. “This is propaganda of pedophilia in the most accurate sense of the word,” Mizulina said in comments cited by Russian state television.

Russian bloggers and social media users began sparring over the show; some expressed outrage, while others defended the display. In the midst of the kerfuffle, Anna Kuznetsova, presidential ombudsman for children’s rights in Russia, called for prosecutors to investigate the exhibit, which she described as “chilling.”

По итогам. В Центр фотографии приезжал Антон Цветков из Общественной палаты. На фото вы видите, как он общается с владельцами Центра. Он был адекватен, но прямо сказал: вы же понимаете, работать вам не дадут. Начнётся мракобесие, атаки, погромы и тухлые яйца. Он прав. Даже на пресс-конференцию, на которой обьявили о закрытии выставки, пролез совершенно ненормальный мундеп: орал, мешал журналистам работать, требовал уничтожить четыре снимка, которые лично ему не нравятся. С ним пришла целая свита помощников – Антон Цветков пустил только одного из них, но этот урод облил фотографии вонючей жидкостью, и теперь в зале совершено невозможно находиться, хлорка эту дрянь не берёт. Урода скрутили и вывели крепкие ребята, занимающиеся профилактикой правонарушений, но теперь у нас пахнет так, как будто провоняло десять старцев. Не осуждайте владельцев Центра за их решение закрыть выставку. Центр – их любимое детище, и они способны на всё, чтобы его сохранить. Кроме того, они абсолютно не готовы ежедневно отражать атаки мракобесов, придурков и прочего отребья, которое накинется на Центр и даже смотреть не будет, что в экспозиции есть, а чего нет. Давайте уважать их решение.

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On Sunday afternoon, men in camouflage stormed the center. They were members of Officers of Russia, a public organization of 100,000 veteran and active police officers dedicated to the “patriotic upbringing of the population,” according to the group’s mission statement. They blocked the center’s entrance and evaluated the exhibit for “pedophilic” content. They then ordered the museum to close the show, and the museum complied.

That apparently wasn’t enough for some objectors, however. When the center held a press conference to announce that it would close the show, a protester posing as a journalist started screaming and demanding the destruction of four photographs that he found particularly offensive. In a fit of moral outrage, the man splashed the photographs with yellow liquid from a bottle. He was handcuffed and escorted out by police.

“Some completely misbehaved loon managed to make his presence known: he was screaming, disrupting the press. … He was accompanied by an entire pack of supporters,” wrote Instagram user Olga Grigor of the incident. (The pack of supporters remained outside, yelling “shame!”) “This freak splashed a photograph with some foul-smelling liquid.” Television channels reported that the “foul-smelling liquid” was urine.

Sturges is no stranger to controversy. In 1990, after a complaint from a photo-lab employee aroused suspicion, FBI officers raided his San Francisco studio and seized his cameras, prints, and computer. The organization ultimately did not press charges. Still, Alabama and Tennessee have attempted to ban his many monographs, calling their contents child pornography.

Sturges defends his work, claiming it has nothing to do with pornography and that all photographs are taken with consent of the subjects, or, if they are minors, their parents. “My ambition is that you look at the pictures and realize what complex, fascinating, interesting people every single one of my subjects is,” Sturges said in the Moscow exhibit’s press release. “Nudity means nothing to anybody here. … People are naked … because they are naturists and spend their summers in a resort dedicated to the absence of shame.”

In a 1990 interview after the raid of his studio, Sturges commented, “If obscenity is simply a matter of somebody being without clothes, then there are so many other things that would be inherently obscene — medical books, the National Geographic.” The Western art establishment tends to agree with him: Sturges’s work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Library in Paris, and the Frankfurt Museum of Modern Art.

As for the urine-throwing protester, it’s unclear what symbolic point he was trying to make, but he’s certainly made things more difficult for the center. The show may be coming down, but “now, it’s pretty much impossible to even be in the gallery,” wrote Instagram user Grigor. “Even bleach isn’t helping with the smell.”


A photo posted by Ольга (@grigor_olga) on

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Carey Dunne

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering arts and culture. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Baffler, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.

3 replies on “Peeved Protester Throws Pee at Censored Photo Show in Moscow”

  1. I’ve seen jungle camouflage and Arctic camouflage and hunting camouflage, but I am wondering what Museum Camouflage looks like?

    1. Not sure about in Moscow, but in the US I’d say skinny jeans, works boots, knit cap and horn rimmed glasses?

  2. This reminds me of something I saw in the National Lampoon back in the 1970s. As a young art student, I never forgot it. A dissident art exhibit was trashed by the Red Army and the works were destroyed. They published a blurry photo of the incident, smuggled out of the USSR, with a speech balloon describing the action, it said, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like to stomp into the mud in the gutter.”

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