Panic, David Marr has stated since the publication of this book, is what he writes about: why people panic, what they panic about, and how they express it. Clearly, with his investigative skills and his access to different worlds, Marr was the ideal person to examine the so-called Henson affair.
The story itself is by now depressingly familiar, but few if any saw it coming. Bill Henson, a Melbourne photographer, had been practising his art since the mid-1970s. A few years ago, in Sydney and Melbourne, more than one hundred thousand people saw a major exhibition that featured studies of nude models, some of them quite young. There were no complaints, no public outrage. Henson’s work has been exhibited abroad, several handsome catalogues have appeared, and he has cultivated a number of influential supporters, David Malouf and Edmund Capon among them.
Everything changed with Henson’s latest exhibition at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, in Sydney. The invitation featured a portrait of a naked girl who is now referred to as ‘N’. Roslyn Oxley had reservations about the choice of image (‘I was always a bit worried about it. I thought, “Bill aren’t you going a bit far?”’), but the artist prevailed. The choice, in hindsight, seems almost Wildean in its daring, its provocation, however unconscious.