Lecturer faces sack for recommending Del LaGrace Volcano’s transgender photography.

// 7 August 2009

Simon Burgess, a lecturer at East Surrey College, has been threatened with serious disciplinary action and redundancy for recommending the work of artist Del LaGrace Volcano to a student who was doing a project on gender and sexuality.

The artist’s work is very clearly relevant to the student’s project, as it focuses on transgender, queer and gender variant identities and sexuality, but management have branded it pornography and of no value to the student. While material which could be defined as pornographic could well be of relevance to the student’s project anyway, it is clear that Del LaGrace Volcano’s work has a purpose and politics behind it; it is not simply designed to titillate, like pornography, and to suggest that the lecturer’s recommendation of it is akin to providing a student with pornography is ridiculous.

Dr Eugenie Shinkle, a senior lecturer in photographic theory and criticism at the University of Westminster’s school of media, arts and design is leading the campaign to save Burgess’ job:

“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.”

She could stick a transphobic in there too.

Check out The F Word’s review of Del LaGrace Volcano’s book, Femmes of Power, here (by Milly Shaw).

Comments From You

polly styrene // Posted 7 August 2009 at 12:21 pm

It seems very surprising that a college would threaten a lecturer with the sack for merely recommending a book to a student. To justify dismissal for a first conduct offence it would normally have to be gross misconduct. We don’t know who, if anyone has made a complaint here – though I presume that someone must have – and what they’ve said. Can I suggest that maybe the story presented is not the full one and there may be more serious issues that we’re not aware of?

Laura // Posted 7 August 2009 at 12:38 pm

Polly, I’ve emailed Dr Shinkle for more information.

polly styrene // Posted 7 August 2009 at 4:37 pm

Oh also, technical point, redundancy isn’t the same as dismissal. You can only be made redundant if your job genuinely no longer exists, otherwise it’s unfair dismissal.

Virginia S. Wood, Psy.D. // Posted 7 August 2009 at 8:56 pm

I must have clicked on the wrong link. I found some really cool visual commentary on gender, some of it erotic. But I couldn’t find the porn. Could someone please tell me where it is? I was really disappointed.

Seriously, though; most of it not to my personal taste but some really awesome character studies–and technically, mindblowing portraiture. Thanks for introducing me to this guy.

Pam I // Posted 8 August 2009 at 4:59 pm

The people co-ordinatinmg this campaign are now trying to let things die down a bit if they can – the original email was never intended to be circulated publicly and it is at the point where it is harming the case rather than helping it.

it’s likely that the hearing scheduled for next Monday will be postponed.

Liena Vayzman // Posted 9 August 2009 at 12:10 am

Sending support from SF! I included Del LaGrace Volcano’s work in my “Gender Issues in Photography” class at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design, USA) precisely because of its artistic strength, contribution to debates on gender, and representational strategies. Where can we send a word of support?

martcibe // Posted 9 August 2009 at 12:57 am

That is pretty outrageous. Guy was just doing his job surely ?! College’s reaction smacks of all kinds of nasty attitudes.

Laura // Posted 9 August 2009 at 1:54 pm

@ Pam,

Yes, I emailed Dr Shinkle and she said as much; I wasn’t aware that the email wasn’t intended for circulation as I just linked to The-Source.org, but have now removed her email address from the blog post, in line with her wishes. She cannot provide us with any more information while the investigation is ongoing.

Jacob // Posted 9 August 2009 at 7:59 pm

“but management have branded it pornography and of no value to the student. While material which could be defined as pornographic could well be of relevance to the student’s project anyway, it is clear that Del LaGrace Volcano’s work has a purpose and politics behind it; it is not simply designed to titillate, like pornography”

I really do object to points like this – I mean who the hell cares if art is just made to titillate, or is that not allowed now? You are completely playing into the hands of a management who clearly have a very conservative view of art by saying things like this. And this is hardly a new argument I’m making – ever heard of Schopenhauer? What about, erm, modernism? Seriously, you’re undercutting yourself here.

ToastedSheep // Posted 27 August 2009 at 1:13 pm

If it is true that the material suggested to the students was relevant to the project, then this is outrageous! I studied French at university and read and wrote essays on the works of the Marquis de Sade, which are definitely pornographic, but had some interesting philosophical ideas in there as well. This smacks of judgemental managerial decisions of those who have little idea or appreciation for the subject matter involved. They have no right to call themselves academics if they are not prepared to analyse the material before judging its content due to their own pre-conceived ideas. I would be very interested to hear what has gone on in this case, and to see if there is anywhere I can support the lecturer involved if the hearing does not go in his favour. The fact that it has even got that far is ludicrous. East Surrey College should hang its metaphorical head in shame and be laughed at by all decent, upstanding academic instutions.

On a side note, I have just looked up their website and it appears to be a further education college, which would normally mainly deal with 16-18 year olds. The student to whom the recommendation was made may be under 18, which may be what has caused the uproar. Equally, they may have been 18+, but I strongly suspect that this might be something to do with it. That’s a harder call to make, but I would personally think that anyone vaguely involved with the arts would appreciate that true art is not produced by an artist who thinks ‘I’d better make this one a bit less risqué so that kids can look at it.’

Gary // Posted 21 September 2009 at 9:33 am

Shocking…what are they thinking! As a Art Photography student I see it as relevant to gender but also art nudes, stereotypes, and self portraits; to name a few. If this is not relevant work then what the bloody hell is?

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