Photography lecturer faces discipline

A photography lecturer faces a disciplinary hearing after it was alleged that he showed students pornographic material

BJP understands that Simon Burgess, who lectures at East Surrey College in Redhill, will appear in front of the hearing on 17 August after a complaint was lodged by one or a number of second-year students on the Higher National Diploma in Digital Photography.

The complaint concerns photographs by Del LaGrace Volcano, whose work has often been deemed controversial, but has nonetheless been exhibited in galleries across Europe, including the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Although Burgess has refused to comment on the action ahead of the proceedings, fellow lecturers have sprung to his defence, accusing the college of censorship, after news of the proceedings was leaked online.

East Surrey College, which states openness, respect, integrity and innovation among its core values, also declined to comment. ‘Until the facts are raised in a hearing, we cannot comment about staff-related actions,’ a spokeswoman told BJP. Burgess faces the sack if the College’s management supports the complains.

Volcano, who lived his first 37 years as a woman and describes himself as a ‘part-time gender terrorist’, has voiced his support for Burgess, urging others to protest the college’s decision to put the lecturer through official proceedings. In an online statement, he writes: ‘I am asking for a favour. A man who used to attend my lectures as a photography student is being threatened with redundancy because he recommended my work to a student doing a project on gender and sexuality. If you value the work I and others like me have done over the past 25 years please stand up and say so!’

Cary Welling, a senior lecturer and programme leader of the photography department at the Nottingham Trent University, has defended the use of Volcano’s images. ‘We deal with a lot of subjects that could be seen as pornography by some,’ says Welling. ‘We have to discuss these issues. We need to tell young people about their responsibilities. We need to talk about legislation and how people will react to their photos. If you don’t show the work of artists that have pushed boundaries, how are they going to manage? How are they going to know what their responsibilities are? As a lecturer, I fiercely defend the use of that material.’

An email sent by Dr Eugenie Shinkle, a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster, to seek statements of support from fellow academics was leaked online. In the email, Dr Shinkle says that ‘management’s stance displays a remarkable ignorance of contemporary debates and image-making strategies’, adding that it presents a serious matter that has ‘implications for all academics, teachers and students’.

An unnamed writer, who claims to be an art historian at the University of Edinburgh, has also voiced her support on The Sauce blog. ‘It is in no way inappropriate to point a student in the direction of works such as those of Del LaGrace Volcano if these are the issues the student needs to examine to complete their course work,’ she writes. ‘I teach Renaissance Art History. Am I to understand that I cannot show students the work of such masters as Giambologna's Rape of the Sabines? The Medici Venus? The Venus of Urbino? As a female, of course, I find rape as a subject reprehensible, but I still use Giambologna's work because it exemplifies many other Renaissance attitudes, not just to the female body, but as part of the classicizing mythology of Florentine Art, or simply the stylistic developments inherent in Mannerism.’

Volcano describes himself as ‘a gender variant visual artist’, and much of his work focuses on the complexities of masculine and feminine identities and sexual politics. His work can be seen at dellagracevolcano.com.

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