Photographer angered by artwork ‘censorship’

John Byford - SO Festival photographer
John Byford - SO Festival photographer

A photographer has hit out at the organisers of SO Festival in Horncastle who refused to show his art, accusing them of ‘censorship.’

An estimated 4,000 people - many of them families with young children - saw Horncastle transformed into an ‘Enchanted Town’ with the highlight proving to be a series of illuminated displays.

It is what they didn’t see that has led to a war of words.

Festival officials - and East Lindsey District Council - expressed concerns about a planned display by Skegness photographer John Byford, which included one image entitled ‘A Mouthful of Sperm’ and another of a man drinking a bottle of wine wearing just his underpants.

The images were part of a display called ‘Horniness’ - a combination of Horncastle and Skegness - two of the main centres of the festival.

According to Mr Byford, the images were due to be exhibited at Banovallum House with some being projected onto the side of the building.

‘A Mouthful of Sperm’ features two children looking into the open jaws of a dead sperm whale on Skegness beach.

Festival director Robin Morley told the News he thought the title had strong sexual connotations which would not have been suitable for a family audience.

Mr Morley denied claims by Mr Byford that organisers had also objected to the image of the man in his underpants.

However, Mr Byford is adamant that 13 of his images were deemed unsuitable and as a result, he refused to take part.

He claimed some of the images had been included in the 2010 So Festival and did not attract “one single complaint” after being displayed in Skegness.

Mr Byford said: “If it was suitable for Skegness in 2010 then surely it was good enough for the people of Horncastle.

“Do they (organisers) think the people of Horncastle are too reserved because they live out in the sticks in a sleepy little antiques town and aren’t ready for anything that is slightly edgy.”

Mr Byford claimed organisers - and ELDC - were aware of the nature of his work - because of his involvement in the previous SO Festival and the fact they commissioned him to work on a provocative publicity campaign which featured a series of unflattering images of Skegness’s rival resorts Brighton and Blackpool.

Mr Byford added: “They know what my work is like. Yes, I am controversial but that’s what I am about.

“For the Horncastle event, they objected to more than a quarter of my images. I think they were worried about the backlash they might face, but with art you’ve got to take risks.

“If I was good enough for SO 2010 and the advertising campaign, why wasn’t I good enough for Horncastle?

“Their objections were too much. I offered to change the title to ‘A Mouthful of Sperm Whale’ but that still wasn’t enough. You see a lot worse on saucy postcards on Skegness seafront.”

“What they have done amounts to censorship. It is ridiculous.”

Mr Morley said; “Both myself and ELDC did not have an issue of the man in his underpants.

“However, we did have an issue with the image of two very young boys looking into the mouth of a dead sperm whale which Mr Byford titled ‘A Mouthful of Sperm.’

“When we saw the work, we thought the combination of the image and the title could be interpreted in several ways, some of which had strong sexual connotations which would not be fitting to put in front of a family audience.

“We gave John a very clear brief and met with him to discuss his intended submission.

“We had an amicable conversation about ‘A Mouthful of Sperm’ and several other images and whether they were appropriate to be seen by a family audience.

“When John said he was not prepared to replace the images, I had no choice but to withdraw the installation from the event.

“This situation is not about censorship or banning art.

“It is about displaying artwork that is appropriate to the audience that will see it.”