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Feminist Self-Imaging and Instagram: Strategies of Circumventing Censorship

November 2nd, 2013 § 1 comment

I was asked to be part of this fantastic panel for National Communication Association (NCA) at the end of the month.

Legal, Ethical and Technical Challenges in the Evolving Online and Mobile Visual Paradigm 
Sponsor: Visual Communication Division
Chair: Leslie-Jean Thornton, Arizona State University
Respondent: Tori Ekstrand, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Feminist Self-Imaging and Instagram: Strategies of Circumventing Censorship

Author, Magdalena Olszanowski, Concordia University

Instagram is a free, what I term, IB-MSN (image-based mobile social network), centered on personal user-uploaded photographic content with strict rules about its uploaded content, (i.e., “You may not post violent, nude, partially nude, discriminatory, unlawful, infringing, hateful, pornographic or sexually suggestive photos or other content via the Service)” (http://instagram.com/legal/terms/). Like most censorship laws, the visual expression of sexuality and identity is conflated with violence and hate, reinforcing a reductive view of nudity as pornographic, and therefore inappropriate, unlawful, unethical and needing to be controlled. I argue that, despite Instagram’s content policies, users are finding creative strategies to maintain their imaging practices and circumvent censorship. Specifically, I focus on women and their feminist self-imagining artistic practices that include the body, often in nude or, what Instagram would signify in ‘sexually suggestive ways’ that employ certain technical and aesthetic strategies. These strategies include, but are not limited to, privatizing accounts, using photographic techniques to abstract the body and its parts, nuancing sexuality, but also taking the risk to create artistic nudes and dismiss the guidelines in favor of artistic communication. As such I ask, what are the effects of Instagram’s content management policies on feminist self-imagining practices? I historicize these practices within the lineage of 60s and 70s feminist body art that relied on breaking the boundaries of social and legal policies of what was ideologically acceptable as art. Specifically, I look to work of Carolee Schneemann and Hannah Wilke whose work was often dismissed because of its sexual content (Jones, 2006). Using a mobile methods approach, I conduct interviews with five popular female Instagram users about their: 1) practice; 2) precarious position of posting nude images; 3) strategies for artistic intent; and 4) sharing of work on such a closed controlled IB-MSN. In part, I will also engage in a discourse analysis of their photos and its content and context, including hashtags used, captions, and so on. Finally, I question the ideological subjectivity of the Instagram nudity clause considering its pejorative rhetoric of: “keep your clothes on” (http://help.instagram.com/477434105621119/) that is resonant of commentary towards many feminist body artists.


Shiny Happy People Holding Guns: 21st Century Images of War

When US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan filter their war experiences through visual aesthetics characteristic of contemporary mobile messaging culture, they produce a new visual discourse for war in the internet age. My analysis of 250 Facebook photos reveals an emphasis on colloquial representations of young adult life: hanging out, goofing off, playing games, and wearing costumes. For example, one image depicts two Marines in full desert camouflage posing for a picture while wearing skeleton masks. The Marine on the left looks down at his digital camera, either reviewing a photo or getting ready to hand it off to the “shooter.” The gear in the photo (masks aside) suggests that they are prepared for a combat scenario. Mortars and rockets could hit their base at any moment. The silliness and nonchalance captured in the photo seems antithetical to their physical locale, especially a condition of immanent danger. Most audiences would not recognize this as a combat scenario. Photos like this reflect the ways in which our shifting visual repertoire-with emphases on friendship, domesticity, and spontaneity- modifies visual discourses for contemporary war. If knowledge of war hinges on its representation, then what do these images contribute?

Author: Lisa Silvestri The University of Iowa

The image is now live: Appropriation, copyright and collaboration on Instagram

In 2013, with more than 100 million registered users (a category that has grown rapidly and steadily since the image-sharing social network was launched in October 2010), Instagram is the giant among photo-sharing services. Although the Instagram application works only on iPhone and Android phones and the Apple iPad, its popularity is fueled by being able to simultaneously publish photos elsewhere as well, including to Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and Tumblr. Most users post photographs they have taken themselves, either with cell phones or other cameras. Any photo that can be accessed from the mobile device can be uploaded and published via Instagram. The program is famous for its ready-to-use filters to enhance and alter images. Many use them; many do not. Visual editing, however, is extremely popular on Instagram. Hundreds of applications (apps), mostly free or inexpensive, offer more complex and varied editing opportunities than the basic Instagram filters. Instagram provides unlimited comment space to facilitate discussion or photo details. Around those editing options, global communities have formed. One of the largest, Applifam, has more than 10,000 followers and an active membership from more than 20 countries, according to a recent survey. It offers daily challenges, coaching, and a nurturing climate. It recently formalized itself as ESAF, Electronic Social Art Foundation, based in France, and has held physical art shows of contributors’ work. Although this paper will contextualize Applifam by describing other groups, the focus is on the work produced there and observed over the past year. During that time, the group (led by a moderator) has grappled with ethical and legal ways to use images in a technological environment that makes image theft easy, a cultural “remix” environment that finds unauthorized uses natural, an artistic environment that values the symbolic statements of appropriation art, a legal environment that varies by country, and a socially collaborative environment that may or may not reward strict adherence to copyright standards despite the group’s policies. The result will be a rare look, through artifacts and comments produced by many people connected by explicit visual criteria, at evolving standards regarding our common visual heritage.

Author: Leslie-Jean Thornton Arizona State University

Remixing, reposting, and reblogging: Copyright law, visual works, and social media

Social media has changed the way people engage with content and each other. With social media, users can create, share, remix, edit, and collaborate together in ways unimaginable just a few short years ago. Social media has also challenged the ability of existing legal rules to deal with novel situations. Communication law-from defamation law to privacy law to intellectual property-has often struggled to keep up with digital technologies and social media. The purpose of this paper is examine how copyright law has adapted to-or struggled to adapt to-the rise of social media such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Pinterest, Youtube, Vine, Snapchat, Tumblr, and other mobile video applications that allow users to post, copy, edit and remix visual media content. Because social media users are both creators and users of others work, it is important they understand both the rights and limitations of copyright law. The paper both explains the current status of copyright law as it applies to social media and visual works and offers suggestions for how copyright law might be reformed to better encourage expression and creativity on social media sites. First, the paper explains the basics of copyright law. Next, it explores how the law governs the use of visual content on social media platforms, discussing current case law and legislative proposals. This section focuses on fair use, the ability to use photos and videos found on social media, and linking and embedding videos. Third, the paper examines how websites’ and Internet Service Providers’ terms of service and technological architecture can control content and restrict the rights of users. This section examines technologies and policies such as Pinterest’s “no pin” code and YouTube’s content ID system. The paper argues that individual sites’ code and contracts must be designed to ensure a balance between the private interest in visual content ownership and the public’s interest in the dissemination of information and the promotion of creativity. Finally, the paper concludes with suggestions for how copyright might adept to deal with visual content in the social media age.

Author: Derigan Silver University of Denver

Back to the 1990s? Revisiting 20th century digital image ethics debates via Instagram

Concerns about photography’s faithfulness to a supposedly objective reality are as old as the medium itself. Those concerns were heightened, however, in the 1980s and 1990s, when digital technologies made it vastly easier to edit images in ways that occluded spatial and temporal separations. In journalism, such practices generally were regarded as deceptive or potential deceptive. News photographers and photo editors were fired, reprimanded, or publically criticized for deleting or digitally covering objects that were deemed offensive or cluttered the composition; for creating composites of two frames; for toning images for political, sociological, or aesthetic reasons; or for altering the content of images to create compositions that fit traditional media formats. Judgments tended to be rather black and white. Alteration generally was considered unethical, absent the defense that altering images with digital technologies would avoid harm to those pictured or merely reproduce standard darkroom techniques to allow reproduction of differences that the eye but not the camera lens could perceive. This paper argues that somewhat different, and potentially more complex, ethics-related questions are raised by news media uses of the mobile image-sharing application Instagram. One of the most prominent features of that application-besides traditionally square image shape-are the filters that users can apply to create special effects. Some filters can enhance photos aesthetically, producing by digital means images that could have been made in analog contexts only by careful attention to exposures. Other often-used filters digitally “age” photos, creating a nostalgic affect that suggests a collective memory of the Polaroid era. Used by photo hobbyists, these alterations to reality might at first seem to pose little concern. Questions arise, however, when filtered images become such a common currency of visual culture that they are embraced by journalists. This paper analyzes the evolving defenses of and objections to filtered images in journalism and compares the arguments around them to arguments about image alteration in earlier digital eras.

Author: Susan Keith Rutgers University

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§ One Response to Feminist Self-Imaging and Instagram: Strategies of Circumventing Censorship

Hi hi... your words mean everything to me.