When Danu Sefton showed someone a photo she had taken of her 7-year-old daughter Madeleine in a bathtub, she hardly expected to get a knock on the door from police. The image also struck a chord in the photography industry, with the Palmerston North UCOL student taking out a silver at the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography Awards. But not everyone was on the same wavelength, calling it a depiction of child abuse.
"Some people in my class said I needed to stop what I was doing. I have been held and shaken because of it." Some had asked if Madeleine understood about consenting to be in photographs. Ms Sefton said her daughter was always more than happy to be in photos. "She's been in theatre since she was 4 - she understands make-believe. If she wasn't competent at understanding those things, I wouldn't have asked her to be in a picture." The bathtub was full of warm water at the time and her daughter was fully clothed. "What kid doesn't want to be told to put their clothes on and jump in the bath?"
Ms Sefton, in her second year of a bachelor of applied visual imaging at UCOL, said she had the idea for the image in her head for some time. She took the photo during a semester break to "capture that in-between state" between life and death. Several people came to understand where Ms Sefton was coming from, but one person had not and had complained to the police. So they knocked on the door, asking to see any pictures of Madeleine that were online. "It was on a Saturday before ballet and we were having pancakes, but we both weren't feeling too good, so we were in our dressing gowns and they knocked on the door," Ms Sefton said.
But they immediately saw there was nothing to worry about. "They saw it and said ‘oh, that's art'," she said. "It's nice to know the police are art literate as well." Despite the police presence, Ms Sefton said she always knew she would be all right. She had books of research about the photography style she was trying to emulate and had not gone out to harm her child. "I felt secure that what I had done wasn't wrong." There were far worse pictures that people put online or in the public sphere, she said. "What about kids naked running around the garden?"