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Daniel Love is a Photographer and Writer, who is a regular contributor to SESSIONS Online Magazine.
Nudity has been an element of my photography artwork since I began this journey back in 1998. In fact, it has been an element of my artistic vision since about the 4th grade. Initially, it was included because I appreciated the female figure and wanted to use that beauty that I found, highlighted by light and shadow and shared with the world. If you look at my earlier works they are all black and white and search for and explore the different angles and curves of the female figure. Whether these images were shot in the studio with strobes, candles or natural light, or amongst the environments harsh elements it was an exploration that taught me composition, tone control, presentation, posing, lighting, the rules of photography, how to break those rules, and a greater appreciation of the female figure. That was all to be expected though. What wasn’t expected was how much I learned about the human condition and women, specifically their relation to their body, their past: traumas, experiences with other photographers, goals, successes, failures and childhood, their aspirations, concerns, insecurities and relationships and most of all how to be a better friend to each of them.
believe that part of why I have been honored to develop these connections with each of the women I have worked with over the last 20 years has been multifaceted. Some have become my friends, some shot with me once and stopped communicating with me after they got their images, others I lost contact with to the world, and I wonder about them often, however, in all cases, it affected them and me alike. Then somewhere in the last 20 years the focus of my photography shifted. It became less about the figure and more about the woman. I started looking forward to each shoot as not just an opportunity to create a great image, but a chance to get to know someone on a deeper level. In fact, one of the things that I tell models when they first shoot with me, “the most important part of this shoot is that you are comfortable throughout the shoot, and that a far distant second goal is that we get a great image. If we do the whole shoot and you walk out of here having been comfortable and feeling good about yourself the shoot was successful regardless of what I am able to produce from the images.” What makes this particularly important is that I sincerely mean it.
It has also become clear that the presence of nudity in a shoot changes the outcome of those connections as well. When a person is nude the masks and trappings of society are often shed with the clothing. Clothing is specifically made to flatter the figure, allow people to present an identity and to hide insecurities. When a person removes their clothing, they remove a barrier between you and them. What follows is that other mental
barriers also begin to fall, and while you can communicate about the beauty of the figure, that can only take up a small amount of the time that you spend together, which can be hours at some shoots. You beg
in talking about life, relationships, worries, aspirations, where that scar came from, other photoshoots, and what you are going to do this weekend. Then as you continue those conversations you might get into more philosophical issues, why censoring of the human body is harmful, what we should do with the world political stage, or even women’s issues and rape culture (all conversations that I have had during shoots). Remember that one of the two parties is bare, or close to. It amazes me how a person is stiff in the beginning of the shoot and as we paint or shoot and talk they relax. They become comfortable in their own skin and their nudity becomes less and less important (I don’t believe
they ever forget, but they are nude, but they think about it less and become comfortable).
That is when the great shots happen!
My dear friend, Layla Ives, who you were introduced to in this issue, put it this way: “I think the presence of nudity has strengthened our bond. When one is bare in the right healthy environment it enables honest communication. You always provide a safe healthy environment for me to be bare in body and soul.”
You can imagine my chagrin that the female body is still viewed as obscene and inappropriate for view in the public domain or even in the confines of social media without proper censorship. If you have followed me on Instagram or are a friend of mine on Facebook you know that I have been in an ongoing battle with community standards for approximately the last two years. This battle started with a series of Facebook jail periods (where they keep your account active, but deactivate your art page and keep you from posting or responding to anything with growing periods of time each time you have an infraction of the community standards) over a link to my modelsociety.com portfolio (which they never made clear, but I finally narrowed it down to the offending issue). Then over the last year my issue has been shifted to Instagram (a subsidiary of Facebook for those that are keeping track). I have had three images removed from my Instagram page, two for the display of the female buttocks (no labia or genitalia was visible, it was deemed that the picture was too much of a close-up, and one for a nipple that wasn’t present (it was part of a nipple piercing that was visible)). What some might not realize is that when you have an image removed from Instagram, they also deactivate all your hashtags so that your reach is limited (kind of a hassle)(also referred to as a shadow ban).
However, my concern is not with the penalties enforced, benign or malignant in nature, but with the concept of community standards. In both cases the platforms indicate that you are being penalized, and/or an image is being removed because it goes against “community standards”. Yet my question is where are these community standards derived.
The U. S. Supreme Court defined obscenity in several court cases including Miller v. California, where the Miller test was originated:
* Whether the average person, applying contemporary adult community standards, finds that the matter, taken as a whole, appeals to prurient interests (i.e., an erotic, lascivious, abnormal, unhealthy, degrading, shameful, or morbid interest in nudity, sex, or excretion);
* Whether the average person, applying contemporary adult community standards, finds that the matter depicts
or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way (i.e., ultimate sexual acts, normal or perverted, actual or simulated, masturbation, excretory functions, lewd exhibition of the genitals, or sado-masochistic sexual abuse); and
* Whether a reasonable person finds that the matter, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
In order for something to be considered obscene it has to fit all three prongs of the Miller test. Which although subjective, number 3 is hard to meet as many things do have some artistic value. The community standards as set forth by the US Supreme Court are subjective, but define a fairly wide swath for what is and is not obscene. Nowhere in that three-pronged test does it talk about the female nipple or how much of a buttocks can be displayed, or for that matter that pubic hair is obscene.
Recently, in my protest of Instagram’s community standards I have come across several different articles or quotes on the sexualization of the female body, specifically the female nipple. In a research paper written by Brenna
Helppie-Schmieder she states that “laws prohibiting the public display of the female breast, but not the male breast are unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.” She contends that not only are these laws illegal, they are harmful to females in general.
Rachel Libeskind states, “I grew up in Europe, and every Jergen’s commercial has tits in it because the nude form is just not sexualized the same way there. I think censoring a female’s nipple or bush encourages this negative
fetishization and covetization.” Which if you think about it, is a logical stance. Think about the last time you were told you could not have something by your doctor. Say he/she told you could no long drink soda pop, from that point forward you were fixated on the idea that you couldn’t have a soda pop. Want a more universal example, how
about the last time you tried to lose weight by trying to diet. While you are dieting what you think about is what you ate, the next time you are going to eat, what you are going to eat, and where you are going to eat it. Food becomes an obsession.
Now think of the female figure. What is covered, what have you been told is a private area. The nipple. What is the public fascinated with seeing, the nipple. The nipple has even been re-assigned from a primary role of feeding young to the role of sexual organ. In his striking down of a law in Fort Collins, Colorado that would make it illegal for a woman to go topless in public or show her nipple, Judge R. Brooke Jackson, a United States District Judge serving on the United States District Court for the District of Colorado, said the ordinance “perpetuates a stereotype engrained in our society that female breasts are primarily objects of sexual desire whereas male breasts are not,” he wrote….
“At bottom, this ordinance is based upon ipse dixit-the female breast is a sex object because we say so,” Jackson wrote. “That is, the naked female breast is seen as disorderly or dangerous because society, from Renaissance paintings to Victoria’s Secret commercials, has conflated female breasts with genitalia and stereotyped them as such. The irony is that by forcing women to cover up their bodies, society has made naked women’s breasts something to see.”
Factoring these comments about female nudity into the concept of community standards the censoring of the female nipple when the male nipple is not censored is not only beginning to be part of a shifting view and may be illegal, but is likely causing harm to the very people that are purported to be protected by such rules. Yet here are Instagram’s community standards as written on their site,
“We know that there are times when people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature, but for a variety of reasons, we don’t allow nudity on Instagram. This includes photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks. It also includes some photos of female nipples, but photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are allowed. Nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK, too
As a photographer, if the simple nature of the censorship did not upset me, the implication of when and where it is censored is very disturbing to me. “Nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK, too.” First, the implication here is that photography is not and cannot be a serious art form, which is insulting and frankly wrong in my opinion, but that is another argument. More importantly it is an illogical statement. Follow me now. A woman comes into your studio, strips naked, you cover her in plaster creating a mold of her body. You then take that mold and create a cast. Next you fire a bronze statue or relief made from said cast. With me so far? A photo of that woman with artistic merit that includes her nipple(s) is against community standards due to the sensibilities of the community, but an exact replica of that same woman and her nipples is acceptable within community sensibilities.
What this is saying to me is that the living breathing woman is obscene if she shows her nipples, but the object made from her body, the literal objectifying of her body is perfectly fine. That should be enraging in and of itself.
Emily Ratajkowski of Blurred Lines fame, and a well renowned model stated the following: “it really bothers me that people are so off ended by breasts. That’s when I realized how fucked our culture is. When we see breasts, we don’t think of beauty and femininity. We think of vulgar, oversexualized images.” Emily, I couldn’t agree more, the body should be venerated and celebrated not as a sexual object, but as a thing of beauty and art, regardless of the art form. That we continue to shame the woman in the flesh, but venerate the objects made from her appearance is doing nothing to point us in that direction.
Which brings me to my next point concerning the “Community Standards” of Instagram. Images that include close-ups of fully-nude buttocks are not allowed. Let’s forget for a moment how vague and open for interpretation that regulation might be, and focus fully-nude buttocks as a
requirement. If you go to Instagram and view photos on the site for any period you will come
across a picture or two that are basically a photo of a woman in a sexually provocative position with a thong or g-string that barely covers the genitalia, but as it is not fully-nude it is acceptable by community standards. Yet the two images that I had removed showed no genitalia, and only one had any sexuality charged in it, and then not of an overt manner, but because there was no g string or thong involved it was deemed to close a view of the bottom (in both cases the image went from the shoulder blades and included the knees).
Are these community standards protecting sensibilities of the community or continuing to support the commodification of the female body as a sexual and only a sexual object. I will be the first to tell you that sexuality cannot be completely divorced from the human body, but it does not have to be the sole focus. Furthermore, the concept of nudity and sex do not and should not be considered one in the same. In my opinion it lends itself to continue to cause body image issues, sexualize young women, and create an environment where continued rape culture can fester.
I have had to many wonderful experiences with my models and friends to believe for a minute that the continued
shame placed on them by the community about their nude bodies is anything but harmful. I have had women cry tears of joy when they have seen their images, because they could never see their beauty like it was presented prior to that moment. Women have told me how much more powerful and empowered they felt following a nude shoot, and they have related to me that the experience has helped them deal with past traumas and self-confidence issues that they have had for way too long.
It is my hope and desire that we can get to a point in this community where we can view the female figure and body as beautiful and unabashed part of our society. That we can see a woman without a bra and not snicker at the fact that we can see her nipples poking through her shirt. That we can see a woman without a shirt or bra walking down the street and not “worry” about car wrecks occurring, as a member of the Fort Collins community was concerned, because it is such a normal sight that we no longer care. I long for the day when we are more concerned about the violence our children may see than the possibility that they may see a nipple, or god forbid, someone’s genitalia.
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