Sonja in Her Bath
Starting in 1974, Swiss artist Annelies Strba has photographed members of her family for a lengthy project called Shades of Time. The photos in this projects are typically fuzzy, over-exposed or grainy and invoke a bygone era of intimacy and nuclear family. The photographs depict her children Sonja, Linda, and Samuel as well as her grandmother, mother, partner and eventually her grandchildren. Sometimes intruding, sometimes nostalgic, her photos capture utopian togetherness and lack of privacy in our simple everyday life.
In a subtle, effortless way, they are the chronicles of relationships, childhood and the coming of age between fantasy and reality. The title of the project itself invokes the process of seeing oneself in one’s own offspring, and fleeting memories of the irrevocable past. Although her photographic vision was much hailed, Annelies Strba was widely criticized when she exhibited the above photo of her daughter naked in the bath. The photo was taken in 1985 when her daughter was 12 (at least according to museum tags).
The photo has already been published in a book and shown in several major European galleries without complaint when it came to the eminent Rhodes+Mann gallery in Shoreditch, east London in 2002. Public outcry ensued in Britain and Scotland Yard threatened to charge the gallery’s director with the Obscene Publications Act. Although denounced as pedophiliac, the photo was not withdrawn, a court deciding controversially that the reputation of the gallery and the strength of other photos in Strba’s work is enough to consider the picture as a work of art.
Sonja-Maria Bon, who claimed she was 16 not 12 in the photo, also didn’t think the photo was pornographic or pedophiliac. Sonja, now herself a photographer, claimed it is one of her favourite pictures by her mother: “I was 16, I had a boyfriend and a job in a hospital. I knew what I was doing. And it was my mother taking the photo. It is only a problem for other people if they see it in that way. If they think of pedophiles, it is their fantasies when they see the picture, but it is not a problem for me or other people.”