Photography lecturer to be disciplined for showing students trans artist’s work

Jessica Geen August 19, 2009
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A photography lecturer at East Surrey College in Redhill is facing disciplinary action for showing students the work of an trans artist.

Simon Burgess, 51, was helping one student complete a project on gender and sexuality. He recommended the student look at the work of Del LaGrace Volcano, who lived as a woman until he was 37.

Volcano, who describes himself as a “part-time gender terrorist”, explores transgender life and sexuality and some of his work contains sexual images. It has been exhibited across the world, including the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

However, the student is said to have complained to college officials about the photographs and Burgess may now face the sack.

East Surrey College has not given out any more information about the complaint but a leaked email in support of Burgess accuses the college of being “censorious, backward and homophobic”.

Dr Eugenie Shinkle at the University of Westminster criticised managers for taking action over the photo: “Management are claiming it is pornography, salacious, grotesque, worthless and not relevant to or appropriate for second year level three photography students preparing for higher study.

“Apart from being censorious, backward and homophobic, management’s stance displays a remarkable ignorance of contemporary debates and image-making strategies. This is a serious matter that has implications for all academics, teachers and students.”

Volcano himself has called for support for Burgess. In a statement, he said: “I am asking for a favour. A man who used to attend my lectures as a photography student is being threatened with redundancy because he recommended my work to a student doing a project on gender and sexuality. If you value the work I and others like me have done over the past 25 years please stand up and say so.”

Volcano told the Mirror last week: “If my art was shown out of context I can see how they might be seen as pornographic.

“They could be seen as explicit, but I am not a sex photographer. If you pull them out of the context of the book, then they are shocking to some people.

“Some of my earlier projects, in the 80s and 90s, were more erotic, I did photos for [rubber fetish magazine] Skin Two.

“But I don’t see that recommending my book could cause this kind of reaction.”

He added he is considering legal action against the college for denigration of his work.

Burgess was due to appear at a disciplinary hearing yesterday but East Surrey College has not confirmed whether this took place.

A college spokeswoman said: “Following on from an earlier statement, East Surrey College can confirm that a confidential internal investigation is currently in progress and to protect all parties connected with the investigation, has no further comment to make.”

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