Prudence over porn

April 24, 1998

Regarding the Mapplethorpe book and the University of Central England ("The naked and the damned", THES, April 10), surely this was a matter neither of obscenity nor pornography but discretion. Why did the librarian not confine this expensive (Pounds 75), potentially controversial work to the reserve bookroom? Why did the student's supervisor not help make the illustrations in the photography department? Why was the student so ill-advised as to send the film to be printed at a high-street shop, where the staff could not be expected to know the pictures were from a book? Prudence is always the better part of pornography, academically speaking.

Mapplethorpe was a fashion and celebrity photographer of modest talent and much derivativeness, who caught the New York gay scene of the 1970s just right and became first its martyr and then its patron saint. But children should be kept away from St Robert until they know their sexual orientation. Higher or further education students ought to be of the age of discretion, but all too often they and their advisers act like 14-year-olds. Silly, that is.

Mike Weaver Linacre College, Oxford Editor, History of Photography

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