Police Departments Investigating Nude Pictures of Minor : Law: Slides of a partially nude 12-year-old are turned over to Irvine police by a film lab. The photographer defends her work.


Three slides of a partially nude 12-year-old girl have sparked investigations in two states after the pictures were turned over to Irvine police by a commercial processing lab.

Laguna Beach photographer Marilyn Lennon took slides of the unidentified girl to Irvine Photo Graphics for printing Tuesday. The lab alerted police after considering the nudity and the age of the subject, according to owner Betty Farrell, who added that the Irvine Police Department had asked her about two months ago to contact authorities if they received "anything involving nudity of minors."

Lennon has defended the photographs as taken "purely from an artistic point of view," adding "I am pretty upset about it. They are just lovely photographs of her."

Alarmed artists and arts activists, meanwhile, said the situation recalls the widely-publicized case of San Francisco art photographer Jock Sturges, whose studio was raided and thousands of negatives confiscated last year after the FBI received a tip from a commercial film processor.

After three days of investigation, the Irvine Police Department decided Friday that because the photos were taken in Santa Fe, N.M., the case was not in the department's jurisdiction, according to Lt. Vic Thies. It was also determined that Lennon could not be charged with possession of pornographic material under California law.

Thies said the case has been turned over to police in Santa Fe, however. The Irvine Police Department will hold on to the original slides, however, at the request of Santa Fe police, Thies said.

A spokesman for the Santa Fe Police Department would not confirm that an investigation was underway, but Roger Butow, the fiance of photographer Lennon, said he spoke to a Santa Fe police detective Friday. The detective was awaiting copies of the photos, according to Butow, and was investigating New Mexico statutes on child pornography and had already contacted federal authorities regarding the case.

Lennon took the photographs in June at the weeklong Santa Fe Photographic Workshop led by noted art photographer Joyce Tenneson.

Lennon, a make-up artist and photographer who takes studio portraits for model portfolios, wanted the slides printed for her personal portfolio. "I don't see how I could be guilty of anything under the circumstances," Lennon said. "This was just kind of a shock to me, that my name is associated with this sort of thing."

Tenneson, reached Friday at her studio in New York, said the girl's mother was present during the sessions. Tenneson added that she doesn't usually use underage models in her workshops, but that it was suggested by the mother--who is also a model--and the daughter. Both were paid for the sessions, she said.

Tenneson said the young model was "very comfortable" with the sessions. "I was the one who suggested we wrap her (below the waist), because I didn't want to run into any problems."

Previously developed prints of the slides, provided to The Times, show the girl facing the camera with fabric wrapped around her waist, with her torso and breasts exposed.

Betty Farrell, owner of Irvine Photo Graphics, has said the decision to contact police was not a "value judgment," but an effort to respond to Irvine Police Department requests to contact authorities if they received "anything involving nudity of minors."

Commercial photo processing laboratories are required under state law to contact authorities if they receive materials showing evidence of child abuse or depicting "sexual conduct" involving children younger than 14.

G. Ray Hawkins, owner of a prominent Los Angeles photographic gallery that bears his name, said that the use of minors as models is common among professional artists, including painters, sculptors and photographers. "What's interesting is, only photographers are being harassed," he said.

Hawkins was referring to the case of photographer Sturges, who was the subject of a widely publicized 17-month investigation concerning child pornography (a grand jury refused to indict Sturges last month).

Sturges' work, which often features nude women and children, has been exhibited widely in major galleries and museums. The case arose in April, 1990, after a processing lab in San Francisco called the FBI to report that it received negatives depicting nude young girls in suggestive poses.

On April 25, federal and local agents armed with search warrants entered Sturges' studio and confiscated thousands of negatives, along with photographic equipment, sparking widespread outrage among arts and civil rights activists. The FBI later sent a letter to at least one laboratory, meanwhile, requesting that any "questionable material" be reported to the FBI or local authorities.

Tenneson, like Sturges, often employs partially clad young girls in her work. She said her use of young models has not been a source of controversy.

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