“Framing Innocence” by Lynn Powell

Many years ago when my youngest son (now 18 years old and in Year 12 at high school) was in kindergarten, we were friends with an American couple who had a boy in the same class as him. They were only here for a year and moved back to the United States to the small city of Oberlin, Ohio. Our contact with them has been sporadic over the years but my wife has just received a fascinating email from Lynn Powell who is the mother of Jesse, the boy my son was friends with.

Lynn is a published poet but her latest work is a piece of non-fiction (Framing Innocence, The New Press) based on the case of a neighbour of theirs who was arrested and then charged with child pornography offences after she had dropped off ten rolls of film for developing at a Discount Drug Mart in the American summer of 1999. The neighbour, Cynthia Stewart, only got the prints back from nine of these rolls as the last roll had been kept by police after lab technicians contacted them when they found that this roll contained 19 pictures of her eight year old daughter in the bath.

There is more about the case as it was developing here … http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/article-4915-a-snapshot-of-what-freedom-is-and-isnt.html

And this is from the blurb at The New Press website:

Ten years ago, amateur photographer and school bus driver Cynthia Stewart dropped off eleven rolls of film at a drugstore near her home in Ohio. The rolls contained photographs of her eight-year-old daughter Nora, including two of the child in the shower—photos that would cause the county prosecutor to arrest Cynthia, take her away in handcuffs, threaten to remove her daughter from her home, and charge her with crimes that carried the possibility of sixteen years in prison.

The disturbing case would ultimately attract national attention—including stories in USA Today and on NPR—and supporters including the famed photographer Sally Mann, Katha Pollitt, and the ACLU. Framing Innocence brilliantly probes the many questions raised: when does a photograph of a naked child “cross the line” from innocent snapshot to child porn? What makes a photograph dangerous—the situation in which it is shot or the uses to which it might be put? When does the parent, and when does the state, know best?

Written by poet Lynn Powell, a neighbor of Cynthia Stewart’s, this riveting and beautifully told story plumbs the perfect storm of events and people that threatened an ordinary family in a small American town. Framing Innocence features a determined prosecutor; a fundamentalist Christian anti-porn crusader who is appointed as Cynthia’s daughter’s guardian; the local attorneys for whom the case would become a crucible; and the many neighbors—friends and strangers, Republican and Democrat—who come together to fight for sanity and for justice for Cynthia and her family.

Lynn’s book will be available at the end of the month … although I notice at the Amazon website that it is in stock already. I can’t wait to get a hold of a copy of it. And from a purely personal angle I can’t help but shake my head over the treatment dished out to Cynthia Stewart. When my oldest son was a baby, I took photographs of him lying naked on the floor of the bathroom in his aunt’s house. Those photographs are still in the family album and at that stage – back in the late 1980s – photography lab workers and police had better things to do with their time than getting into a moral panic about purely innocent photographs of naked children. Sadly, how times have changed.


About rossbmedia

Journalist ... interested in the truth not public service spin.
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One Response to “Framing Innocence” by Lynn Powell

  1. Amy Wirtz says:

    I lived this case with Cynthia. Very few citizens understand the power prosecutors yield in the United States. This concept is not taught well in law schools and needs to be addressed within scholarly settings as well as legislative settings. This power was recently discussed regarding the release of discovery within the state of Ohio. You should read the articles regarding what the prosecutors withheld from defense counsel just because they felt it was wtithin their discreation. Every citizen should consider their constitutional rights as precious armour. I know Cynthia was glad those right were there for her. Attorney Amy Wirtz, Defense Counsel for Cynthia Stewart.

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