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The ethics of photographing 'children' in BJDdom

Aug 31, 2007

    1. I'm putting this up for debate for entirely personal reasons, really, because it's an issue I'm having trouble figuring out and I want to know how other people see it. I think Debate is the best section for it because it seems a little controversial for Discussion; mods please feel free to move it if you want to, though!

      My most recent doll acquisition is a 15 year old girl (who has totally stolen my heart :P); her name is Omphale, she's from the circus, and she's...rather alternative. I mention this because part of her self-expression takes the form of a number of tattoos, one of which is neatly situated on her derriere.

      My dilemma is this: were she an adult character I would have no qualms photographing said tattoo. However. At 15...I feel kind of odd taking photographs that would require her to be at least partially naked, and for the express purpose of showing off her body, too. I think 'squicked' might even be the technical internet term.

      So I'm wondering how other people feel about photographing their underage characters naked.

      I realize that, personally, my academic background plays a very significant role in making this a difficult topic for me. I have a history in feminism, gender-politics, and art history and theory (in photography specifically, as well as in more traditional mediums) and the debate of what constitutes questionable content where minors are concerned is an ongoing one.

      Before anybody jumps in and points out that 'they're just dolls' I'd also like to present some precedents for this kind of debate - be warned that some of the images in these links might be quite disturbing - for example the work of Hans Bellmer (who photographed the dolls he made of little girls/parts of little girls in very compromising situations) and Cindy Sherman (who also photographed 'dolls' she constructed out of mannequins, toys, etc., in a very overtly sexual way) So the idea of dolls, particularly childlike ones, being sexualized is not a new concept. And while, as far as I'm aware, technically pornography has to use actual human beings...Bellmer's work in particular has sparked some fairly heated discussions on the line between sexually loaded images of objects and all-out pornographic material (you might also be interested to know that his dolls were ball-jointed, so our tradition of photographing our little resinites has some 'interesting' roots).

      Anyway. To get some straight questions out there for debate:
      · How do you feel about photographing your 'underage' dolls naked?
      · Do images of naked underage dolls cause you any disquiet/moral dilemma?
      · Are you concerned by sexualized images of underage dolls?
      · Or does the fact that they are, when you get right down to it, 'just dolls' mean that their (admittedly fictional) 'age' has no bearing on how they are/should be portrayed?

      For the record this is not a part of the 45/60 debate. Nor is it a visual debate (ie. it looks like a little kid therefore it's wrong), because many companies produce dolls with very childlike bodies (Volks, for example), and even more childlike faces, and owners do not necessarily attribute to these dolls the ages they most closely resemble, physically speaking.

      This is, essentially, a question of age. Is it appropriate to show dolls - characters, really - who fall into the category of minors naked? And, as a flow on from that, is it appropriate to show them naked in some situations (eg. having a bath, running around on the lawn, typical kid things :P), but not in others (eg. lying on a bed, or a similar situation more appropriate to an adult)? Or does the fact that they're dolls make age a meaningless concept in terms of appropriate behavior and depictions?

      I look forward to your responses!
    2. I think it all depends on the character of the doll. It seems that the doll becomes more than just a doll when it is given a personality, a backstory, or when you write photostories and what-not about them. It seems that this alternative lifestyle you describe Omphale to have would see her showing off this tattoo. However, you have to be able to sleep at night, and if this contradicts your personal ethics, you shouldn't do it. These are merely my opinions as a senior in college with a fairly solid backgroun in ethics.

      Next I'd like to address your background in feminism. I personally struggled with whether or not I called myself a feminist for quite a few years, before deciding it was a title I could embrace. That Journey is neither here nor there, but helps gives insight into the foundation for my logic. I feel that on the issue of this doll being a female is kind of irrelevant. The question I would ask myself is, would I be comfortable photographing the tattoo if it were a 15 year old boy? I mean both males and females have butts, so I think it isn't important whether the doll is a boy or a girl.

      But on a broader spectrum I'll reflect on the questions you pose towards the end.

      · How do you feel about photographing your 'underage' dolls naked?
      I think I've already addressed this question a bit, I think it's all situational. And the ass is definitely a part of the body I'd be less shy about. I would feel extremely awkward posting an underage dolls genitals, or an underaged female's breasts. However, it also depends on how underage they are, seeing as that depends on what state/country you inhabit, as well as what you mean by 'underage.' I mean in the united states if you drink before you are 21 you are doing so underage, but the age in which you are no longer a minor in regards to sex varies greatly by state. Also I find the idea that there is an age and a specific date at which you miraculously become ready for intercourse, or any adult activity, to be laughable.

      · Do images of naked underage dolls cause you any disquiet/moral dilemma?
      I think the answer to this is definitely yes and no, and the reasoning for that is all lited above.

      · Are you concerned by sexualized images of underage dolls?
      Again I point upwards, but I do add one point. At every stage BJD's are extremely sexualized, the barbie doll is, and even more so are the BJD, what with the presence of genitals and all. So it is almost as though they are begging to be photographed as such.

      · Or does the fact that they are, when you get right down to it, 'just dolls' mean that their (admittedly fictional) 'age' has no bearing on how they are/should be portrayed?
      I believe that fiction reflects reality, and therefore the idea that they are just fictional is a poor excuse. That said, it kind of doesn't, what is keeping you from just changing the dolls age? just bump it up to whatever legal age you wish to adhere to, or at least whatever age you feel comfortable with. It's almost all completely subjective, based on each morals and ethics. You could argue that society would feel either way about the issue, based completely on the lens which you view it through.

      Last, but no least, I definitely do believe that the situation definitely makes a difference. I guess there's a spectrum from the innocent (in your case, simply showing the tattoo) to the appaling (anything involving sexual fetish).

      Well, there you have it, that is my opinion on the issue. Take it or leave it.
    3. Yay, a reply!

      Firstly, just to clarify:

      I mentioned my feminism only because women's rights are often strongly linked with children's rights; if my background in these things were less intrinsic to my thought process, I would be far less likely to be in any way concerned about a topic such as this in the first place. You're right: Omphale's biological sex has no bearing on the issue, and you may in fact notice that I was very careful throughout my post to use gender-neutral terms (eg. 'adult character' rather than 'adult female'). I am certainly just as horrified by depictions of male children in pornography as female.

      You raise a good point about individual circumstances (though I think to some extent an age can - and should - be specified with regard to children and sex. A ten year old is, for example, not ready for a sexual relationship under any circumstance. Biology, if nothing else, makes this clear: at ten a child is unlikely to have body hair, or menstruate, etc., which indicates that the human body is still unready for intercourse at that point). People - and by extension characters - mature at different rates and are comfortable with different things. To use my own doll as an example once more: Omphale, while not in any way sexually active, has lived a very communal life with lots of other kids running around and very little/cramped living space. Thus she's a lot less self-conscious about being naked than most girls her age would be; however, to portray her as a sexual object (and we can't deny that many bjds are photographed to convey that idea) would be very, very tasteless, because it really isn't something her character is ready for.

      I suppose this means that it's not simply a situational issue in terms of character, but also in terms of photography: on this forum nudity is portrayed in many different ways, and not all of them would be appropriate for all characters, or all age groups.

      I also agree with your position on fiction to some extent; in my view, the moment you ascribe a doll a personality, emotions, and thoughts, you must also treat them with at least a semblance of the respect these things would merit in a real person. How else are the characters expected to be believable? But by the same token 'changing the doll's age' might not always be appropriate, because in some situations, age may be an integral factor in their character and development.

      Also: I'm sure you mean well, but I would appreciate it if you'd perhaps be a little more careful in your phrasing, when you're writing about other people's personal values. 'Addressing my feminism' sounds kind of like 'addressing a problem'. Just a note to let you know that it put me on edge, and I think we're all striving to keep this forum as edge-free as possible, to facilitate good discussion ^^
    4. Hmm... I guess what it comes down to is whether or not it feels exploitative o you. To use the example of your 15-year-old doll, I think of 15 year olds as being "awake" to their sexuality- this has nothing to do with being sexually active or not, or what the age of consent it, or any of that, and it doesn't apply to all 15 year olds, but many 15-year olds are aware of their sexuality and often test the waters and their boundaries, etc. If your girl has a personality where she would gladly show her bum, I can't really see a problem, whereas if she's the kind of girl who would shy away from that and prefer for it not to be seen by others then it would be weird. Think of it this way... if you look at MySpace and at child pornography, you might see the "same thing", but the MySpace photo would have been taken as a direct statement of the subject/photographer's (since they're usually the same person) sexuality and personality whereas the child pornography image would have been taken against the subject's will, in an abusive situation, where someone else is showcasing their sexuality against their will. You may find the MySpace image tasteless, but it's worlds apart from the child pornography.

      I hope that made sense? I know you clarified a bit so this may not related directly to you and Omphale, but a general doll of that questionable age. My girl is definitely childish, to the point where I feel if I took a photo of her nude it would be impossible to take it sexually... but that's just me, maybe someone else would see a tone of sexuality there. A lot is up to the interpretation of the viewer as well. *shrug*
    5. I tend to agree with this, myself. When I was young, we thought nothing of running around naked and topless - it was something we never really considered. I think a naked child doll in the bath, or playing, or whatever, can't really be seen as objectionable, as it's something that lots of kids do. How many parents have pictures of their naked baby on a rug?

      However, when it's a situation that children don't generally get into, such as a sexual act, or whatever, it becomes wrong. If the photographer is intending to portray the child doll in a sexual way, it becomes unethical, and somewhat sick, to my mind.

      So, it all hinges on the photographers intention, for me, anyway.
    6. Sexual pictures of dolls with underaged bodies make me feel very uncomfatable. To me, the age of the doll's 'character' is irreleveant to me if they look like a child (especially a very young one). The apparence of dolls and the photographer's intention is what really matters to onlookers.

      I think if people need to take clearly sexual pictures of dolls that are underaged looking, wether if it be becuase the photographer delibatley intends to sexaulize children or becase the 'character' is older than the dolls apparence, should exercise extreme caution when making such photos avaliable for general viewing, as it's such a delicate subject and can be so upsetting to alot of people. In most cases I think they should just be kept to one's self.

      EDIT: As regards to your 15 year old doll moomintroll, I don't see how it could be offensive or not ethical to take pictures of her naked, especially if it was just to make a feature of her tattoo work. After all there is more to an erotic photo then nakedness alone.
    7. This is a touchy subject. I have seen some very beautiful artistic photos of Koitsukihime dolls that might be considered by some people to be sexual in nature, but were not offensive to me because they were clearly meant to be art. I notice that her photos do not portray the child dolls with adult dolls, but rather they are alone or with another child doll. I, personally, would never photograph a child doll with an adult doll in a provocative situation, and would be wary of portraying a child or teen doll with overt sexuality because they might be considered by someone to be child pornography. I realize that they are dolls and not real children, but they would creep me out all the same.
    8. Personally i think it depends on the nature of the photograph, as others have said. If your taking nude photos of your girls in an artistic way, either to show off tattoos, body work, or the like, i see no problem. If its of a sexual nature however, thats different

      I personally dont see the controversy in figuring out the pornography thing. Yes, pornography insinuates humans, but dolls are made in the image of humans, and with a twist of the imagination, can be seen as them as well. For lack of a better example on my part, think of Japans hentai (anime/animated porn) and how much of it there is, and on teh same thought the manga comics of the same thing. You have to be 18 to buy them, because they are considered pornography of a sort--but there arent any real humans (unless you consider the voicovers) but there are images of humans.

      in fact, getting back to the underage nudity thing, there have been cases where peole have gotten arrested for selling such drawings and manga, because it had children in it. If i'm corect, it was a man in canada who got arrested because he was selling the stuff...images of children in sexual situations, not real children, but it was still considered child pornography.

      Dolls...are a little different here, i think, as we can say an msd is 30 and an sd is 10 all the same, even without diferentiating body types, but that doesnt change the fact that some dolls are more childlike in nature and you cant take that away, no matter what clothing they ahve on (or dont). i believe DoA has rules regarding this, right?Where any situations between younger looking dolls and adult like ones are prohibited? Please corect me if i'm wrong =)

      Taking apicture of your girls tattoo, regardless of placement, is perfectly ok--as long as you dont intentionally sexualize it. I like to think of this as something akin to a mother taking a picture of her child in the tub playing with bubbles, or of her toddler with chickenpox. We all know our moms have embarressing nude pictures of us, but they arent lude in nature, and no mother has gotten arrested for taking pictures of her kid like that ^^

      --just a thought, if your worried about it looking sexual, cover up other parts? I'm currently imagining a really amusing image of a girl pulling her pants down to moon those looking her way XD
    9. I personally don't care for "sexy" or sexualized images (whether dolls or people) so the "age" of the character is kind of irrelevant for me.

      I wouldn't pitch a fit about it, or go out of my way to read anything "wrong" into it, but "sexy" is just not my cuppa. If I see "Nude" in the title or one of those little heart icons, I just usually skip it.

    10. My opinion of whether a picture of a naked doll depicted as a minor is acceptable or not is going to hinge on whether the image is sexualized, or purely artistic. The character of the doll is, of course, going to come in to play on my opinion as well, but the overall feel of the photograph is most important.

      I have no problem with nude photography, whether it is nude photography of a child or of an adult. If it is artful rather than sexually charged, then I would consider that appropriate, and something I would be fine with looking at. I have a friend, for instance, who is 17 and is a nude model; her mom used to do it, and she thought it would be interesting. None of her bits are ever showing, and the paintings or photos are always gorgeous.

      I think that if the shots you are planning to take aren't porny, then you shouldn't be uncomfortable with them. There are plenty of tasteful ways you can photograph a tattoo on your doll's bum. :)
    11. i do not see a problem. i take pics of my boy naked or even in girly clothes and it's ok for me. have no dilemma or problem with it. for me it depends on a doll and on owner somehow. for ex there's big difference between erotic pics and porn. for me doll is a pure beauty so it's body is a part of the beauty also. just my opinion, but the truth is it's a long story and we can talk here how we treat a doll, what it is for us, and other things. ..
    12. I wonder why a fifteen-year-old has a tattoo! D: and on her bum!

      My take? I browse 4chan, so automatically my opinion should not count. Still, I don't enjoy a major sexual exploiting of children. Lolicon doesn't get me, but I'll admit I *am* a fan of shota. I have a character (who my bory is based off of, originally anyway) that has a Marius/Armand type of relationship with an adult. It's not bad, though, since he's getting a father-figure in his life, which he never got from his own bastard father. A friend of mine, if she makes a doll of said older guardian, also likes shota and we may decide to take some photo shoots together...
      I never thought about being uncomfortable about it before, but I suppose I feel like there's no need to photograph their extreme relationship together. I know it, my friend knows it, we rp it, that's that. I like their father/son relationship more anyway. It would just seem.... unnecessary so go all the way.
    13. First off, I love Hans Bellmer. He has always been one of my favorite artists. From an art stand point, nudes are not an issues for me, be it doll, or human. Another one of my favorite artists is Gentaro Araki. I love the pure sensuality he puts into his sculptures and dolls. But all of the figures, and dolls I have seen like that from him, are obviously over 18. He does do some child-like figures, but I have never seen them in a sexual context... and for that, I am glad.

      To answer your specific questions:
      · How do you feel about photographing your 'underage' dolls naked?
      I only have 1 'underage doll' at the moment, and it is an angel.. (Yo-tenshi body) I photograph her nude all the time, but in no way is it pornish.
      · Do images of naked underage dolls cause you any disquiet/moral dilemma?
      When the character is underage, and just nude, I don't have a problem, but when it becomes suggestive in any way, it tends to make my stomach turn.
      · Are you concerned by sexualized images of underage dolls?
      Very much so.
      · Or does the fact that they are, when you get right down to it, 'just dolls' mean that their (admittedly fictional) 'age' has no bearing on how they are/should be portrayed?
      I think our dolls are a work of art, between the sculptor, and ourselves. Many of us paint, or customize our dolls to make them our own, so I don't believe they are 'just dolls'. I think photographing them nude (a doll of any 'age') is perfectly fine, as long as it is artistic, and not meant to be suggestive. As I said before though, when those themes turn suggestive, I would really hope that all of the 'parties' involved are atleast the age of 18.
    14. · How do you feel about photographing your 'underage' dolls naked?

      ~ I love photography. I draw also. Nudes do not bother me, as long as they are tasteful and not pornographic. Having an "underaged doll" posed like a PlayBoy play mate would bother me, but then again, I wouldn't knowingly click to see those kinds of pics.

      · Do images of naked underage dolls cause you any disquiet/moral dilemma?

      ~ No. Scenes of rape or torture DO bother me on a personal level. There are people who blush doll bodies, so if it's to show realistic detail, I have no problem with it.

      · Are you concerned by sexualized images of underage dolls?

      It depends on how far it is taken. I'm a big fan of the "lolita/shota" genre. I do draw the line with age though. IMO, any doll under the age of ten is no longer a "lolita/shota" to me. It's molestation. Also it depends on what the underage doll's mentality is and what role it plays.

      · Or does the fact that they are, when you get right down to it, 'just dolls' mean that their (admittedly fictional) 'age' has no bearing on how they are/should be portrayed?

      It depends on proportions. Obviously, a 45cm doll with a 24cm doll is going to look like and adult and a child because of the size difference. Just like a 60cm paired with a 45cm would have the same "feel". ***I've only brought this up to explain my take on proportions.

      Also the mold/face up is a big factor. DoD's DoC dolls are 7 years old ( according to their site) but with a mature face up they could look in their late teens.
    15. If you look at Japanese culture, you will see that they have their real world and their fantasy world.

      In the real world, everything is prim and proper. Adults go to work, kids go to school, families do things together for fun and everyone dresses decently.

      The fantasy world, which includes anything that is not real life, such as dolls, manga, anime and anything done while drunk, stoned or on leisure time. Age is not an issue.

      In anime and manga, most of the characters are under age, yet they have relationships, feel adult love and in some cases graphic sex. The Japanese have no qualms about it at all, cause they know it's in the fantasy world and almost everyone reads and watches this.
      Same thing with dolls. Most are teenage or elementary school kids, yet you see them dressed in sexy clothes and posed quite provocatively.

      So, I would say that based on this and the doll being from Japanese culture, that it's okay to photograph your doll nude or sexy, despite her being under age. But people outside Japan might not accept that.
    16. I think it ultimately should come down to what you feel comfortable with. If you feel okay taking pictures that aren't sensual or sexual in nature, but still show off the tattoo, then you should feel comfortable with posting them. Put a disclaimer on it if you want to make sure that no one misunderstands the nature of the photos. (And actually, I'm pretty sure that it's against the rules to post minor characters in sexual poses anyway.)

      If you really just want to show off the tattoo, you can do it in a way that is about a tattoo on a doll, not the character. Take off the wig, don't worry about being artistic, just focus on the tattoo. It's the difference between this and this. The first one is strictly about the tattoo. Azure is nude, but it's not in any way sexual. The second one, is artistic nudity showing off a tattoo. (For the record, Azure's character is almost 28 years old.)

      For myself, I would never be able to take any photos of my MSD Mika nude- even doing innocent "kid" things like running through sprinklers, but she's also supposed to be ten and a proper little lady. A YoSD that was supposed to be four or five? I'd have no problem doing that because I wouldn't think it strange to see a toddler running around buck naked.
    17. well, I never meant to offend at all, and you can strike the your from feminism, and take it as my genral view on how feminism plays a role in this debate. My apologies, It wan't meant as an attack at all.
    18. I like this idea...it's a good example of how context is important, and a good thought exercise for how to create a photo that focusses on the doll's personality rather than the photographer/viewer's voyeurism. because I think--like many before me--that there's nothing wrong with the concept of an "underage" doll showing parts of his or her anatomy that are usually covered by a bathing suit; it's just overt/external sexualisation that most tasteful people wish to steer clear of. and even that may be appropriate to some characters (although probably not to this forum).

      on the whole, images of dolls don't cause me any disquiet, regardless of their age and clothedness. however, I have seen a few shots that pushed my squick button, even though I am sure they were not intended to (I intend to buy a seol-a from dollstown, but I have a lot of trouble looking at that site's gallery pages for the sculpt). what concerns me more is the people who are so set on showing images that walk the line of tastefulness that they push the boundaries of this forum...anyone can post something and later find out that it's inappropriate, but it's my understanding that the mods sometimes have problems with posters who try again and again to post inappropriate material, and that kind of behaviour makes me feel like there's something more than just a desire to create art and show a character going on.

      one other thought that I'd like to share is that you, as an artist, are not responsible for other people's [sexual] responses. of course, this must be taken with some respect for forum guidelines, thought about the feelings you are trying to provoke in your audience, etc. but I think that if you take a picture that does not offend your own sensibilities, it's appropriate. if someone else is squicked by it or turned on by it inappropriately, that's not your fault...after all, I'm sure some people are squicked by looking at pictures of fully clothed dolls reading. or get off on people using computers. or whatever. you can't please everyone...nor can you avoid pleasing anyone.
    19. I think you've touched apon a really interesting subject here;

      Personally, I agree that it's mostly about characters rather than bodies. Bonny, my Bee-A, through no fault of her own, has a body that is unreasonably immature for her seventeen-year-old self. Neville, my MNF Elf Shiwoo, has a young man's body that is totally not in keeping with his twelve-year-old self. I would feel uncomfortable photographing Neville topless, but Bonny wanders around in just her panties and I think nothing of it.

      If I don't know the characters involved, I tend to give things the benefit of the doubt - I tend to assume that if the doll is posed in a certain way or seems to be 'behaving' in a certain way then they're a mature character - but I won't look at anything that is specifically objectifying minors. Large dolls, minis, tinies, whatever - for me, it's all about the characters. I'd feel no more comfortable photographing an immature SD naked than I would photographing a cherub-like tiny.
    20. Nude and or sexually explicite doll photography doesn't bother me, and ages of dolls don't either. They aren't human, and I don't respond to them the same way I would a photo of a real person. (I like erotic doll images, manga art, anime etc., but porny photos of real people make me uncomfortable).

      Like someone mentioned before, it's all fantasy. What's going to bother people comes down to personal preference--I don't see a right or wrong here, it's a matter of choosing what you as an individual want to look at (Forum rules aside. Obviously there are things that wouldn't be posted on DoA anyhow, and it's always polite to properly label threads no matter where you post).

      As others have said, there are different kinds of nude pictures, and I don't see why someone would be offended by a nude shot showing off a neat piece of body art. The human body is beautiful, and just being naked doesn't mean that the photo is actually sexual. If you feel comfortable photographing your doll nude, then by all means do so.