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Garry Gross The Woman In The Child

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Antonella Dupaty

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Nov 27, 2023, 12:53:39 PM11/27/23
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The Controversy Behind Garry Gross's Photographs of Brooke Shields
In 1975, Garry Gross, an American fashion photographer, took a series of photographs of Brooke Shields, then a 10-year-old child model. The photographs, titled The Woman in the Child, showed Shields posing nude in a bathtub, wearing makeup and covered in oil. The images were commissioned by Shields's mother, Teri, who signed a contract giving Gross full rights to the photographs.

The photographs were published in a Playboy Press publication called Sugar and Spice, a magazine featuring erotic images of underage girls. The publication sparked outrage and controversy, as many critics considered the photographs to be exploitative, pornographic and abusive. Shields herself later said that she was "embarrassed" by the photographs and that she regretted doing them.

garry gross the woman in the child
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In 1981, Shields, who had become a famous actress after starring in films such as Pretty Baby and The Blue Lagoon, tried to stop the circulation of the photographs by suing Gross and attempting to buy back the negatives. She claimed that the photographs violated her privacy and damaged her reputation. However, a two-year legal battle ensued and the court ruled in favor of Gross, stating that Shields, as a minor at the time, was bound by the contract her mother signed and that the photographs were not sexually suggestive or pornographic.

The photographs remained controversial and provocative throughout the years, especially after they were appropriated by other artists such as Richard Prince, who rephotographed one of the images and titled it Spiritual America. Prince's work was exhibited in several galleries and museums, but also faced censorship and protests from some groups who deemed it offensive and inappropriate.

Gross died in 2010, leaving behind a legacy of controversy and debate over his photographs of Shields. The photographs are still considered by some to be artistic expressions of childhood sexuality and innocence, while others view them as examples of exploitation and abuse of a young girl.


The photographs of Shields also raised questions about the role and responsibility of parents in the modeling industry. Teri Shields, who was often accused of exploiting and manipulating her daughter's career, defended her decision to allow the photographs, saying that they were "beautiful" and "not pornographic". She also claimed that she was unaware of the nature and purpose of the publication that featured them. However, some critics argued that Teri Shields was negligent and irresponsible for exposing her daughter to such a situation and for signing away her rights to the photographs.

Another issue that the photographs highlighted was the legal and ethical implications of child pornography and artistic freedom. The photographs of Shields were taken before the passage of the Child Protection Act of 1984, which criminalized the production and distribution of sexually explicit images of minors. The act was partly inspired by the controversy over Gross's photographs, as well as other cases involving child pornography. The act aimed to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse, but also faced criticism from some artists and civil libertarians who feared that it would infringe on their freedom of expression and artistic creativity.

The photographs of Shields remain a controversial and influential part of photographic history. They have been exhibited, collected, studied, criticized, praised, banned and censored in various contexts and venues. They have also inspired and challenged other photographers and artists to explore the themes of childhood, sexuality, innocence and exploitation in their own works. The photographs have also affected Shields's personal and professional life, as she has struggled to cope with the fame and scrutiny that they brought her. The photographs have become a symbol of both the beauty and the danger of childhood in the modern world.
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