Are his pictures art - or merely porn?

University faces charges over photographs
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The Independent Online
A UNIVERSITY and a firm of publishers are preparing to be prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act for refusing to destroy a book by the controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

Academics at the University of Central England in Birmingham and executives at Jonathan Cape are expected to refuse a police request for them to pulp the book when they meet officers from the West Midlands Paedophile and Pornography Unit.

Mapplethorpe, a copy of which is in the British Library and most university libraries, was seized by police last October. They had been alerted by a chemist who developed photographs of the book taken by a student for a thesis on "Fine Art versus Pornography". Lawyers acting for the Crown Prosecution Service decided parts of it were likely to "deprave or corrupt" under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act and advised the police that they had grounds to ask the university to voluntarily destroy it.

As well as portraits and studies of flowers, the late Mapplethorpe's work features explicit photographs of his - and other people's - sex lives. His most notorious image is of himself with a whip in his rectum. Another work shows two men "fisting". His work has been shown at most major galleries in the western world, including the Institute of Contemporary Arts, the Hayward Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery in London, and is highly regarded by most art critics.

The university and the publishers reacted with astonishment to the CPS's advice to the police. "We will not voluntarily destroy this book," said Dr Peter Knight, vice-chancellor. "I am expecting to meet the police soon with the university lawyers. If there is a prosecution and the courts rule that the book should be destroyed, then we will, reluctantly obey the ruling. The work is of a high artistic standard and would certainly not 'deprave or corrupt' under the Act. It is unusual, yes, but not erotic and not pornography."

Susan Sandon, Jonathan Cape marketing director, said: "This has been in print since 1992 and we certainly have no plans to withdraw it. It is freely available. We have not been contacted by the police yet, so we cannot say what action, if any, we plan to take." However, it is understood that the company would resist any attempt to make it destroy stocks and abandon reprints. West Midlands Police said officers would be talking to Jonathan Cape. A confrontation seems unavoidable.

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