Written by Priscilla Frank for Huffington Post. Originally published August 21st, 2014.
Wyatt Neumann is a photographer and a father. In 2014 he took his two-year-old daughter Stella on a cross-country road trip, photographing their journey along the way. Neumann captured sunsets and cornfields and, of course, Stella, often donning one of most two-year-old girls’ two favorite ensembles: a princess dress and nothing at all.
In the middle of the trip, what the Safari Gallery describes as “a hyper puritanical, neo-conservative group” launched a cyber-attack on Neumann’s images, specifically those of Stella. Calling the images “perverse,” “sick” and “pornographic,” members of the group attempted to remove all traces of them from the web. They successfully prompted Facebook and Instagram to shut down his accounts, and they criticized his artist website as well. While Neumann claims he was open to others expressing their opinions about his work, the “forced censorship” went too far.
“The anonymous public made their opinions about my work,” he explained in an interview with The Huffington Post. “It was the actions they took against me, the reality for me was that these people could actually affect my ability to express myself. They took down my Instagram and Facebook; those are huge digital platforms for a photographer. It had a physical effect on my ability to communicate with people. The fact that they had that ability to control my experience in this life made me want to fight back. I really believe that the work is beautiful and [reveals] the innocence of childhood.”
Neumann was determined, somehow, to turn all the hate directed his way into something beautiful. Rather than ignoring the criticism lodged against him, he created a new series in which he juxtaposed the hateful comments with the corresponding images he maintained were innocent. What he created was a photography show that presents both sides of the moral debate, allowing each visitor to interpret the images individually.
The title of the subsequent exhibition, “I FEEL SORRY FOR YOUR CHILDREN –- The Sexualization of Innocence in America,” was in part inspired by an online comment attached to one of Neumann’s works that read: “The whole thing is sickening and I FEEL SORRY FOR YOUR CHILDREN.” The exhibition examines the attacks launched against his photographs as well as what he sees as a segment of contemporary culture, thriving off shame and censorship, that incited such attacks.
Read more about Neumann’as exhibit, and how he’s combatting the sexualization of childhood in his own unique and beautiful work here!