Johann van Tonder

Die Son: Storm in a B-cup?

2004-10-14 12:05

This column usually touches on subjects generally related to photojournalism, like war and public beheadings, so I must apologise in advance for the weight of this week's discussion as we keep abreast of latest developments.

In the news environment I was seldom exposed to nude photography, although one of my first assignments happened to be of supermodels baring all to save Table Mountain. However, it is a fact that photo editors clash more often about nude pictures than they do about images showing violence or death.

AP, one of the world's largest news wire agencies, will not distribute a full frontal image unless warranted by extreme circumstances. That has yet to happen.

Last week, a lone hero reported Die Son, South Africa's first Afrikaans tabloid, to the Gender Commission for their use of P3-girly pictures, which the complainant considered degrading and demeaning to women.

For the purpose of writing this piece, and only for that purpose, I had to go out and buy the latest copy of Die Son, my first ever. Research became much easier as I remembered that I could go online to look at their entire archive for the much-needed research to bare the brunt of my argument.

As for what my colleagues in the open-plan office thought, I can only wonder. This said, although I still have to meet someone who will openly admit to reading the rag, it has become one of the top-selling papers in the country.

According to the biographies in the captions, many of the girls are professional topless dancers at well-known strip clubs.

I can also conclude, after meticulously studying hundreds of these pictures in Die Son's online archives, that the subjects in the photographs were clearly not forced into posing. They looked remarkably comfortable with being photographed half-nude.

If you're female and grow your underarm-hair for the cause, please, don't spam me now.

I passionately support equal rights for all. What IS regrettable is that, statistically, in any other job, these women would be earning less than their male counterparts.

How about spending this energy on that campaign? And what about the right of these career strippers to practise their profession?

Since the people who used to cover the Scope-girls' nipples with stars were made redundant, a lot of people have been turned off the genre. I suggest you too avoid it if boobs in pictures bother you.

Well, it's not quite that simple, says Dr Paul Lester, respected author of the photojournalism ethics manual, Images that Injure. One of the dangers is the creation in the media of an impossible "perfect" body to which young girls may aspire.

With respect, I wonder about the risk of that in this case. Not unless you aspire to bad make-up, droopy boobs and a tattoo of a dragon to accentuate your normal, broad hips.

Ironically, women's magazines, can be far more damaging to impressionable young women. These publications turn ordinary women into "ideal" godesses with the help of computer manipulation. Now, there's something to make you hot under the collar.

As for Die Son's beauties corrupting the mind - perhaps a storm in a B-cup?

Send your comments to Johann

  • Johann van Tonder is an award-winning news and conflict photographer, and was previously photo editor at Die Burger. He lectures in photojournalism part-time at the University of Stellenbosch and Rhodes University. He is currently finishing a book on how to break into the exclusive industry of photojournalism.

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