Saturday, April 24, 2021

Vancouver photo exhibit covered up: censorship or marketing ploy?

A controversial photography exhibit by internationally-acclaimed Canadian photographer Steven Shearer, part of Vancouver's annual Capture Photography Festival, was covered over last week by the billboard owner, Pattison Outdoor.

The seven large billboards along Vancouver's Arbutus Greenway showed random individuals sleeping. There was nothing risqué or pornographic or violent about the photos, but apparently some people - it's not clear how many - found them "creepy" or "disturbing", and the billboard company caputulated to the complaints and removed the photos.

This, of course, has ignited a whole wave of anguished debate and recriminations about the censorship of art, the sanctity of artistic freedom, and the removal of meaningful discussion of the pieces. 

But it seems to me that there has been probably more discussion of the exhibition since its removal than there ever was before. There have been many examples of artistic censorship over the centuries, from to Marcel Duchamp's Fountain (urinal) to D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover to the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks. All proved to be temporary bans and a product of their times, and in some respects have resulted in greater discussion (and even revenue) than their initial appearances ever generated.

Which makes me think of the old adage, "Be careful what you wish for".

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