Censorship row breaks out in Switzerland over photobook
Zurich court bans book after church members file legal complaint
By Gareth Harris and Christine Coste. Web only
Published online: 27 March 2013
A row over photography censorship has broken out in Switzerland which could, says the director of a major Swiss museum, lead to institutions backing down from mounting shows that focus on real-life situations. Sam Stourdzé, the director of the Musée de l’Elysée, has spoken out in defence of the photographer Christian Lutz whose book, In Jesus’ Name, has been withdrawn from sale in Switzerland.
The volume includes images of a Swiss religious group called the International Christian Fellowship (ICF). Twenty-one of the church’s members who feature in the book, which depicts baptisms and other church celebrations, subsequently filed a complaint. “They consented to being photographed but not to a publication,” says their Zurich-based lawyer Marc Weber.
In January, the Zurich District Court banned the sale and distribution of the book. The 21 plaintiffs are due to file another lawsuit with the same court by the end of March in order to uphold the ban; the case could eventually end up in the Swiss Federal Supreme Court. “The final decision will certainly have an impact on the photography profession in Switzerland,” says Weber, who describes the 21 plaintiffs as “visitors” on events and trips organised by the ICF.
Stourdzé told our sister paper Le Journal des Arts that “there is a risk that self-censorship could now creep into this type of reportage, and that institutions become more wary of showing such works”. In Jesus’ Name forms part of a trilogy focusing on the issue of power, which was due to go on show at the Musée de l’Elysée this summer. The museum says that the exhibition of Lutz’s work will go ahead as planned, although the content has yet to be decided.
Lutz allegedly failed to ask the sitters’ permission to publish the photographs, Weber says. “The court said that a consent for being photographed does not lead automatically to a implicit consent to a commercial use of the photographs and a publication respectively. Further, since the book predominantly contains personal and intimate pictures, the plaintiffs could have expected in good faith that the photographer would inform them in advance regarding his choice of the pictures, and ask them for an explicit approval,” he adds.
Lutz, however, told The Art Newspaper: “I am surprised as they [the ICF] know the project in depth. I showed [the ICF] my previous works and explained my approach. They gave me their permission verbally and allowed me to follow its members. No image was taken without their knowledge. The book subsequently does not contain any damaging images.”
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