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Nude Nursing Home Photos Fuel New Zealand Controversy

Senior Journal

New Zealand

May 15, 2006


'People who are happy to look at attractive young bodies have second thoughts when you add a few wrinkles'

New Zealand is awash in controversy today over a photo essay that shows elderly residents of two nursing homes naked as they shower, dress and use the toilet. The photos appear in the May issue of Kaitiaki, The Journal of the New Zealand Nurses' Organization.

Ann Manchester, editor of Kaitiaki, said some of the criticism had been stirred up by people who were seeing no more flesh than was exposed in glossy magazine advertisements featuring nubile young women, according to a report online by Kent Atkinson in Stuff.co.nz of Fairfax New Zealand

Part of the shock is because our society does not usually show off aged and wrinkled bodies," said Manchester. 

"But these photos show people being cared for at their most frail and vulnerable". 

Ms Manchester said the controversy was not unexpected, because the 40 images
of which only a few had any nudity were more powerful than any written description of the relationship between caregivers and their patients. 

"Every single photo shows the intimate and close relationship
often a fun relationship between the caregiver and rest home residents," she said. 

Rest-home residents, caregivers, the rest homes, and sometimes the families, all gave their permission for the photos to be taken four years ago, and understood they would be published in some form. 

But Beth Kelly, a Whangarei registered nurse and rest home manager, has criticised the photos as an abuse of the women's right to dignity and privacy, reported Stuff. 

She was also concerned that the essay could damage public perceptions of the integrity of the gerontology section committee of the nurses organization, which she chairs. 

She said the group was looking at lodging an official complaint with the organization and with the magazine, but would first discuss the matter with the acting chief executive of the NZNO, Cee Payne-Harker. 

Interestingly, it was NZNO that commissioned the photos, along with the Service and Food Workers' Union.

The photos were taken in a pilot study for a travelling exhibition or a book by Alan Knowles, a Wellington photographer known for his studies of people at work. The were made in nursing homes in Christchurch and Wellington.

Sandra Goudie, the Senior Citizens Spokeswoman for the National Party, issued a statement calling the publication of the photos of nude rest home residents "an outrage."

"Nurses and clinicians specialising in geriatric care are outraged at photographs of naked rest home residents," said TV New Zealand in their online report.

A spokesperson for the gerontology section of the NZNO says the publication of the photos is a form of elder abuse. The section has also lodged an official complaint with the organization and the magazine, according to the TVNZ report.

"These photographs illustrate the care of people near the end of their lives, often with a range of physical weaknesses, in a way that many articles have failed to capture in words," Manchester told reporter Atkinson. 

"Only two or three show people naked or semi-naked. 

"In every case permission was given, and I don't believe they are at all exploitative". 

The people photographed
particularly those who were partly clothed understood what was happening during the "shoot". 

"They did it because they believed in the cause: getting greater recognition for caregivers, to have their work more valued and better paid," said Ms Manchester. 

"It's not glamorous work
it take a special person to perform these tasks of daily living: toiletting, feeding showering, dressing, and giving medication". 

"I've never seen anything which so clearly demonstrates the nature of the work
but while some see them as a powerful essay on the job, others are offended by the sight of a elderly, frail and ulcerated body it is quite shocking." 

"We don't normally see bodies that elderly in the media," said Manchester. 
"People who are happy to look at attractive young bodies have second thoughts when you add a few wrinkles."


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