Jock Sturges: Photographer or Pornographer?

The Story Of Jock Sturges and Issues he Faced with Child Pornography Charges:
Jock Sturges is a world renowned photographer. His reputation straddles the invisible line separating fine art from lewd porn. Sturges is well called a photographer of nudists (naturists). He concentrated his efforts on creating graphics of mostly women and girls. The subjects ranged in age from adults to young children.
It was the photos of nude young kids that first started the legal firestorm. Many individuals in society today are still divided about the depiction of minors in nude photography.
Is Sturges a true visual artist and innovator? Or has he actually transgressed into the universe of ?
In the late 1980s and early 1990s Jock Sturges was making headlines and not for the right motives. For the younger folks who might be reading this, back in the day folks needed to take rolls of film to be developed which was precisely what Jock did. Sadly for Jock, some tech saw the photographs and alerted the FBI to the possibility of child pornography / endangerment.
In July of 1990 numerous pictures and photography gear belonging to Sturges were usurped by the authorities and held as evidence. At the time, the images were ascertained to be sexually explicit in nature. So a broad-scale child pornography case was looming on the horizon.
Many legal experts in San Francisco supported Jock Sturges. Politicians, analysts and some members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors declared that these images were sorts of artwork. Additionally they insisted that since these weren’t pornographic pictures of under-age kids, Sturges was shielded by the First Amendment. They claimed he had the Constitutional right to freely express himself through his pick of artistic enterprises.
Following a drawn out investigation that cost him $100,000 in legal fees, Sturges inevitably won the battle in September of 1991. After seventeen months of legal wrangling and obscenity charges, a federal grand jury declined to indite Jock Sturges as he wasn’t guilty of any offense. Prosecutors were shocked when they discovered the decision.
The “naturist” pictures of girls and children taken by Sturges could be found in novels being sold through major retailers across the country (one of these retailers was Barnes & Noble). During the before mentioned investigation some individuals had gone to local bookstores and took it upon themselves to destroy any of these books they could find.
Following this landmark legal decision, the drama continued for quite some time. There was a continuing push by certain people to have these photography books branded or at the minimum, labeled as obscene content.
In 1998 the controversy got its second wind. Another effort was made to have two of his books classified as child pornography – “The Last Day of Summer” as well as “Radiant Identities.” This effort to ban his books in Alabama and Tennessee was unsuccessful.
Jock could at least see the dry silver lining in all this – he became more renowned as a consequence of this investigation and even more successful as a photographer. Sadly, the FBI had a way of permanently censoring artists like Jock. He says in an interview, “There are pictures I do not shoot now that I previously would have taken without any thought at all. Before, I did not think there was anything more or less obscene about any part of the body. I’d photograph anything. Now I understand there are particular postures and angles that make people see red, which are signs of original sin or something, and I prevent that. But it’s difficult.” And who can blame him for restricting himself as an artist when one innocent photo can turn someone into a child pornographer?
Even some parents were taken in for investigation in the 90s after picture lab technicians reported a picture of a naked kid in their roll of film (the parents’ own kids of course). Perhaps this still happens to parents today, but the digital age has made it much easier to keep family photographs private. Yet, things have gotten more absurd since are facing child pornography charges from “sexting”!

Regardless, we’ve included a few images of Sturges’ work below. In our view, these pictures and his other works are not pornographic or sexual by any stretch of the imagination. The scandal has seemingly been the consequence of a prevalent panic and paranoia surrounding pedophiles and child pornography. Sturges also attributes it to the way American society is so hung-up about sex and the way it refuses to acknowledge children as sexual beings. He states in exactly the same interview: “Western civilization insists on these real demarcations. Before 18, you do not exist sexually; after 18, you exist like crazy. It is ridiculous. The truth is that from birth on, Homo sapiens is, to one extent or another, a pretty sexy species.”
Read more in An Interview with Jock Sturges from 1998.
Photograph by Jock Sturges Young Girl Nude
Christina by Jock Sturges
Bare Mom and Child By Jock Sturges
Christina, Misty, & Alisa 1989, by Jock Sturges
Radiant Identities: Photos by Jock Sturges