Where is the Sex
Tuesday 13 March 2001, by Tierney Gearon, The Guardian
I looked at my pictures today and tried to see the bad things in them that other people have seen. But I can't. Some are describing them as pornographic, others are accusing me of exploiting my children's innocence. I don't understand how you can see anything but the purity of childhood. When the exhibition opened eight weeks ago, the Observer's art critic, Laura Cumming, wrote that I had succeeded in capturing the way that a child would look at the world, almost as though I was a child myself. The exhibition got great press, and the whole experience has been positive - until last Thursday, when I went to the gallery to do an interview and found the police waiting for me. I was completely blown away. I even started joking around with the officers because I simply couldn't believe it was happening. I don't see sex in any of those prints, and if someone else reads that into them, then surely that is their issue, not mine.
I have been documenting my family through pictures for over two years, and I take snapshots of everyday life. I think that the pictures are incredibly innocent and totally unsexual. I don't crop them, I don't retouch, and the shots are never staged. I might introduce an element, like a mask, to a given situation, but I would never insist that the child put it on. The photograph of my little boy naked on a pedestal, for example, happened completely spontaneously. My mother-in-law was going to a wedding, and she came over to the pool to say goodbye to my son, who was splashing about naked. He ran up on to the pillar and looked down at her. I happened to have my camera there, and I took the picture. That's how all these pictures come into being.
My kids - Emilee, who is seven years old, and Michael, who is four - are everything to me. Some people have asked whether I worry that they will have problems with the pictures as they get older. But I don't think they will be embarrassed because I have never made them feel ashamed of their bodies, or of their nudity. If you are raised in an open environment, and taught to have confidence in yourself and your self-image, then it's fine. As for the suggestion that these photographs represent an invasion of my children's privacy, I would counter that I've done it to myself, and to my entire family, too. And if I had had any doubts, then my kids' pride in the exhibition immediately dispelled them.
I never went to art school, and have no formal training in photography. After spending five years as a model followed by another five years working as a fashion photographer, I was thoroughly bored with the whole fashion industry. I had got married and had my two children, and was beginning to ask a lot of questions about myself. Becoming a mother is a major step for any woman: that transition from a single person doing your own thing to a person with responsibility for other human beings inevitably leads you to question your identity. Out of the blue, about two years ago, an art director friend of mine called up. He encouraged me to start documenting my family as a personal project.
Tierney Gearon: Double Exposure
2nd January 2009, by Naomi West, The Telegraph
For Tierney Gearon, photography is a 'hobby, like knitting or playing tennis'. But her unvarnished description is one that fails to hint at the power of her work: the Atlanta-raised photographer produces exhilaratingly personal images â€“ often featuring her children and her mother â€“ that compel you to feel as deeply as she does. Gearon, 45, a former ballet dancer and model who also has a commercial and editorial career shooting for publications including the New York Times and this magazine, insists, 'It's not a business for me. My work is like a diary. I do it for my soul.'
It was exactly eight years ago, in January 2001, when Gearon, then almost unknown in the art world, first showed her work in London (her home city for some 15 years until she relocated to LA five years ago). Forming part of the Saatchi Gallery's photography exhibition I Am a Camera, her work ended up eclipsing everything else in the show. The News of the World proclaimed her nude and semi-clothed photographs of her children (then aged seven and four) taken on holiday 'perversion under the guise of art'; police visited the gallery, questioning Gearon and requesting that the photographs be removed. The gallery refused, and no charges were brought.
Gearon insists there was no manipulation. 'I don't tell my children, "Take your clothes off â€“ I want to take pictures of you naked." It's just what they were doing at the time.'
While she recalls the controversy as 'upsetting', she regards being championed by Charles Saatchi (after his then-wife Kay discovered Gearon) as 'the most amazing thing to happen in my life. He validated me in a way that made others validate me.'
Now a mother of four (Emilee, 15, Michael, 13, Walker, five, and Grace, two â€“ 'by three different dads'), she is showing a new body of work in London, invited by another art world titan, Simon de Pury, the auctioneer and chairman of Phillips de Pury. He is, she says, 'one of the most seductive men I have ever met'. For this show, Explosure, all the images have been created by double exposure inside the camera ('I take one picture, I save the roll of film, and then I shoot something else on top of it'). Her embracing of this 'very old-fashioned' process came about indirectly because of the Saatchi furore, after which she had been taking numerous nude images of herself, some alongside high-profile subjects such as the actor Bill Murray ('I said, "What's so wrong with nudity?" I became naked, naked, naked'). When she began to feel less comfortable, her friend Pascal Dangin (the internationally renowned digital retoucher) suggested she double-expose the images to render her body more obscure. She became so enamoured of the process, its 'surprises and accidents', that she has continued working in this way for more than two years, photographing scenes with friends, family and bystanders as her international lifestyle takes her all over the world from Tuscany to Kerala to frozen upstate New York. 'Two boring images suddenly become more interesting than a regular photograph,' she says.