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Sunday, 11 March, 2001, 13:34 GMT
Smith warns against art censorship
Images at Saatchi gallery
Tierney Gearon's pictures show her children
Culture Secretary Chris Smith has warned of the dangers of censorship in the wake of a row over an exhibition featuring photos of naked children.

Mr Smith was speaking after police had visited a gallery in London after complaints about some of the photographs.


If there is material that is exploitative of children then obviously you need to have some degree of protection

Chris Smith MP

The minister would not speak directly about the police visit but said: "I am much more worried about paedophile material that's available on the Internet than about an art gallery somewhere in the middle of London."

He said: "We must be very careful in this country before we start censoring things that are happening, either in newspapers or in art galleries."

Concerns

The Saatchi Gallery in London was visited by police officers from Scotland Yard's obscene publications unit after concerns were raised over images in a current exhibition.

The visit was prompted by complaints about images of children taken by American photographer Tierney Gearon, who lives in London, in the exhibition I Am A Camera.


They are snapshots of children at play. They are not depraved in any way


Saatchi gallery curator Jenny Blythe
A spokeswoman for Scotland Yard confirmed the visit had taken place but would not confirm whether the gallery had been told to remove the pictures.

Officers visited the gallery twice "recently" following three complaints under anti-child pornography legislation, according to The Guardian newspaper.

Mr Smith said he wanted to see the pictures "with his own eyes" before he made any judgement on them.

He said: "If there is material that is exploitative of children then obviously you need to have some degree of protection.

"Balancing those two objectives is what difficult questions of this kind have to be about."

Curator Jenny Blythe told the newspaper she was shocked by the police's intervention: "I was so surprised. I could not believe it."

Masks

The offending images feature two of Ms Gearon's children naked and wearing theatrical masks; the other features her son urinating in the snow.

Images from the Saatchi gallery
The photos show Tierney Gearon's children at play
Ms Blythe said: "They (the photographs) are funny and delightful. Tierney Gearon is totally devoted to her children.

"They are snapshots of children at play. They are not depraved in any way."

The gallery has made its reputation by championing the work of controversial new British artists like Damien Hurst and Tracey Emin.

Scotland Yard has confirmed that a report was passed to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for its consideration.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said officers acted following complaints from the public.

He said: "We have made two visits of the premises recently following three complaints. We are not discussing who we got them from.

"Reports have been passed on to the Crown Prosecution Service."

The Guardian also reports that fine art publisher Edward Booth-Clibborn has been given a Thursday deadline to remove thousands of copies of the accompanying book I am a Cinema.

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