BUFFALO—Lawrence F. Brose, an "experimental" filmmaker and the artist in charge of downtown Buffalo's well-respected CEPA Gallery, has entered a "not guilty" plea to charges of receiving and possessing nearly 1,300 images deemed by federal investigators to be child porn.
The question to be asked, however, is, "Why?"
"It's research, and art that he uses in his film work," James E. Rolls, president of CEPA's Board of Directors, told the Buffalo News.
Brose is well-known in the independent film community as an edgy creator who often takes images from life, alters them in various ways, often setting them to music, and creates films with distinct artistic and political viewpoints.
For example, Brose took Oscar Wilde's "De Profundis," a series of letters Wilde wrote from his jail cell in 1897, where he was serving term for the crime of being gay, and used them as the framing material around which Brose created a disjointed narrative that includes a stroboscopic collage of 1920s "queer" home movies, gay porn loops from the mid-20th century, Radical Faerie hoedowns, and drag queen performances, many of which Brose stretched, flattened, reversed, recolored and degraded to come up with a pseudo-psychedelic vision of the problems facing closeted gays trapped in a largely hetero culture.
Reviewer Gary Morris called De Profundis a "difficult film" for which "sensitive viewers may want to pop some Dramamine beforehand," but one that "shows the pleasures of queer celebration under siege, fragile and fragmented, but somehow, in spite of it all, ultimately intact."
It is this type of filmmaking, however, that calls into question Brose's intentions for accumulating the child porn images, and his attorney, First Amendment advocate Paul Cambria, believes more investigation will be needed before a trial on the matter can be held.
"My client has been aware of this investigation for more than a year," Cambria told the Buffalo News. "There is no allegation of him creating these images, sending the images on to anyone else or trying to make contact [with minors]. This is a cutting-edge filmmaker. ... We need to determine whether his research was the cause of him acquiring these materials."
Authorities first began looking at Brose, who's been prominent in Buffalo's art circles for more than 20 years, after receiving a tip from German police approximately three years ago, though it's unclear what contact the Germans had with Brose at that time.
But even if Brose had intended to use the images in a film or other artistic creation, that may not help him in court. Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward H. White, who's been assigned to prosecute the case, told U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy at Brose's arraignment that there are no exceptions made in the child pornography laws that would allow filmmakers to receive or use sexually explicit images of minors for either research or in artworks themselves.
Indeed, in the seminal child pornography case, New York v. Ferber, Justice Byron White, writing for the majority of the high court, noted that "The value of permitting live performances and photographic reproductions of children engaged in lewd sexual conduct is exceedingly modest, if not de minimis. We consider it unlikely that visual depictions of children performing sexual acts or lewdly exhibiting their genitals would often constitute an important and necessary part of a literary performance or scientific or educational work. As a state judge in this case observed, if it were necessary for literary or artistic value, a person over the statutory age who perhaps looked younger could be utilized."
Brose was released on his own recognizance after arraignment, and a status conference on the case is scheduled for Jan. 7.