Starting when she was 11, Emma Tamburlini's father recorded her and her sister naked and topless, discussing their breast development, over their protests. Her father was a successful artist, though, so the never-public videos are going in a university library.
Deceased artist Larry Rivers' archives, including the video and the 45-minute film made from them, were recently sold by his foundation NYU's archives, despite requests from Tamburlini, now 43, that they be destroyed. Here is how the videos' creation is described in The New York Times:
Ms. Tamburlini said her father filmed his daughters every six months over at least five years for a body of work he titled "Growing." If she objected, she said, she was called uptight and a bad daughter. When she confronted her father as a teenager about the films, she said he told her "my intellectual development had been arrested."
She also told The Times' Kate Taylor that the experience "wrecked a lot of my life," contributed to her teenage anorexia, and that she had undergone years of therapy as a result. Now, Tamburlini is demanding that the videos be returned to her and her sister and taken out of the archives, saying, "I kind of think that a lot of people would be very uptight, or at least a little bit concerned, wondering whether they have in their archives child pornography."
Her sister has declined comment, and their mother doesn't appear to see a problem, though it was her objection that led to "Growing" never being shown publicly and she supports the videos' return. Tamburlini asked the foundation that controlled her father's estate to destroy the tapes, but they refused. They did, however, ask NYU not to show the videos while the daughters are still alive, to which they agreed. The foundation director told Taylor, "I can't be the person who says this stays and this goes. My job is to protect the material."
The decision rests now with the university, which is being rather vague about their intentions.
Commenting on the story, Tracy Clark-Flory writes in Salon,
No matter your personal reaction to the video — or the idea of the video — it's impossible to see a father's explicit investigation and visual documentation of his daughters' passage through puberty as benign legal territory. We live in a time when parents can be arrested for taking bath-time photos of their children, teenagers can be labeled as sex offenders for taking nude snapshots of themselves and tweeting a link to an upskirt shot of, say, 17-year-old Miley Cyrus can expose you to child pornography charges. I hear things were a bit wilder in the '70s, when Rivers' footage was filmed, but c'mon.
She ultimately concludes that the issues of art versus pornography, of acceptability and social mores "make for a fascinating discussion; there's no doubt about that. But all that seems relatively unimportant, not to mention callous, when hearing about the actual experience of one of the girls in the video." Right. Because there is a crucial difference between a father taking bath-time photos of his children and even posting them on YouTube, and a video whose explicit intent was to document the secondary sexual characteristics of adolescent girls, who happened to be the daughters of the guy holding the camera.
Because, contrary to how Rivers described objections to the filming — as "uptight" or intellectually unsophisticated, as simply being the bourgeois " raised eyebrows of society," that's not what this is about. It's about, as Nancy Schwartzman pointed out yesterday, consent. At 11 years old and even a few years older, these girls couldn't consent and were explicitly forced by their father to do so. What is so different from the victims of child pornography The Times reported on in February who are seeking financial restitution from the consumers of their abuse? True, the Rivers videos as described don't have actual sex acts, but they are specifically focused on the bodies (including the genitals of one daughter) and sexualities of the underage girls involved, with familial coercion and explicit lack of consent. But is the difference just that one is in a university library, called art, and the other is watched on a computer with the specific intent of titillation?
Related: Child Pornography, and an Issue of Restitution [NYT]