The Nipple Effect

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I look at a lot of images. Lately that has been mostly on Twitter and Instagram, and occasionally Facebook. Some of the images I look at are nudes. Over time, I have observed an evolution in those types of images specifically and other types of images as well. For the moment, let’s deal with nude images.

All three of these platforms have restrictions on “adult content.” Definitions are somewhat similar but treatment is different. Facebook restricts images of real nude adults where nudity is defined as “visible genitalia except… visible anus and/or fully nude close-ups of buttocks unless photoshopped… uncovered female nipples except….” The “excepts” include breastfeeding, birth-giving and after-birth moments or health-related situations or “an act of protest.” Instagram’s restriction includes “genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks. It also includes some photos of female nipples.” Both platforms exempt photographs of paintings and sculptures, but that exemption seems to be unevenly applied. Twitter says that you cannot share adult content within live video or in profile or header images. However, Twitter does allow “consensually produced adult content within Tweets if you mark the tweet as “sensitive.”

All of these rules, of course, limit the photographic images that can be posted. Limitations are not necessarily a bad thing; sometimes having limits actually makes the artist more creative. And certainly, even though it seems that these platforms are public forums, they are really commercially owned, and the owners are within their rights to set the rules to be whatever they want them to be (although one would wish that they are applied even-handedly and objectively). And one could certainly question why only female nipples are forbidden, but again, the owners can set their own rules.

In response to these rules, Photographers who do nude work must modify their images. The ones I have observed have taken three primary paths of response: (1) they push as far as they can and end up being banned (2) they pixelate or otherwise cover nipples and genital areas; (2) they pose models so that the offending bits of her anatomy are concealed—sometimes quite awkwardly, creating images that deny their own story-telling. (3) They restrict their postings to those they know are safe.

Sometimes photographers evolve, first trying one approach, the adopting another so that they can stay online and garner as many “likes” as possible. This, in my mind, becomes problematic from an integrity of art perspective. Those artist are essentially tailoring their art to fit the platform. And that is smart—if what is important to the artist is the continuation online and the collection of “likes.” Certainly, some photographers are savvy enough to monetize the number of “likes” they receive. Otherwise, they are modifying their style and content of their work to suit platform censors simply for vanity.

And this trend is not limited to photographers doing nude work. If you look long enough you can observe that photographers are tailoring all images to fit he platform. For example, images that might be square or landscape in orientation are rendered in portrait orientation. This is particularly true on Instagram, where almost every image is optimized to the platform’s ideal image format. That means that aesthetics other than the platform’s don’t matter; the artist is giving up his/her autonomy for the sake of platform optimization.  (Twitter, incidentally, is much more forgiving, rendering all images initially in landscape mode, but allowing all proportions when a viewer clicks on the image.)

Social media are here to stay and have become the primary way many artists become known. However, we must be careful that we do not become slaves to what we think are the most obvious choices in marketing ourselves on social media. We must maintain some artistic integrity and remain true to our individual artistic aesthetics. Otherwise what we are “selling” on social media is not really representative of who we really are as artists. As David Bowie said, “I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfill other people’s expectations. They generally produce their worst work when they do that.

Regardless of the ego appeal of “likes,” we do not want to lose our uniqueness as artists to the seeming demands and expectations of social media. There are better choices.

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Date: Sunday, 27. October 2019 23:07
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