Middlebury Gallery's Nip Slip Results in Instagram Ban | Live Culture

Middlebury Gallery's Nip Slip Results in Instagram Ban


  • Olivia Oh @byoliviaoh
The director of a photography gallery in Middlebury said the gallery's Instagram account was banned after posting a photo of a nude woman's breasts on September 5.

James Barker of PhotoPlace Gallery said the photograph, a fine-art shot by Olivia Oh of New York City, was posted by gallery manager Megan Owen, who he said failed to notice its content. That same day, the Instagram account @photoplacegallery was shut down, and PhotoPlace staff have been unable to access it since.

According to Barker, attempts to contact Instagram have gone unanswered. He noted that PhotoPlace had never received any warning or disciplinary action from Instagram before. 

“They closed down the account," Barker said. "If you look through the galleries of our exhibitions, you’ll see that I’ve never done anything like that before. We’ve never posted anything like that before … There is no history whatsoever. But one breast, and down we go."

The offending photograph was submitted by Oh to PhotoPlace for one of its monthly juried exhibitions. It depicts a woman sitting in a bed with bare breasts and one nipple exposed. While Seven Days has included the original photo with this post, an alternative version, provided by the artist, will be used for social media so as not to also violate platform guidelines.

According to Instagram community guidelines, nudity is not allowed on its platform, including "some photos of female nipples." Photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women breastfeeding are specifically noted as exceptions to this rule, along with paintings and sculptures of nude figures.

"I've become continually frustrated with Instagram's nudity policy over the past few years," Oh said in an email. "It's discouraging to know that the nude body is automatically deemed inappropriate without fully understanding artists' intentions."

Seven Days reached out to Instagram to confirm that the account was banned, and a communications representative said they would look into it. This story will be updated if we receive a response from Instagram.

Barker said that after three weeks of radio silence from Instagram, he and Owen made a new Instagram account under the handle @photoplace_gallery and sent out an email on Sunday encouraging friends of the gallery to re-follow them there. That account currently has more than 1,200 followers. Barker guessed that the old account had about 3,000.

Barker said the gallery, founded in 2009, primarily uses Instagram and Facebook to promote the images and photographers that have been selected for its juried shows. According to the PhotoPlace website, the gallery encourages submissions from all over the world, provides free matting and framing for images selected for display in the gallery, and assists photographers in their self-promotion.

In 2015, the Instagram CEO blamed the policy on Apple, saying that allowing nudity could result in the app being banned from Apple's app store or given a higher age rating, potentially reducing the number of young customers it could reach.

Instagram's terms of use state that the platform maintains the right to "immediately" disable an account if policies are violated.

Many celebrities have spoken out on behalf of the "Free the Nipple" campaign, which argues that women's nipples should be treated the same as men's on social media. Many female Instagrammers take creative approaches to obscuring their nipples, including covering the nipple with a drawing of a nipple and photoshopping them out entirely.

The account @genderless_nipples takes the opposite tactic, posting close-up photos of nipples in which it's impossible to determine the gender of the nipple-haver.

Instagram, Barker said, "is an integral part of our business." PhotoPlace posts roughly 70 photos on Instagram and Facebook every month.

“It does serve as fair warning to other legitimate users of Instagram who just get slammed,” he said. 

Update, September 27, 2019: On Friday, emails to Instagram's communications team were returned with a statement from a Facebook Company Spokesman that read, "The account was mistakenly removed and we apologize for the inconvenience. We try to write policies that adequately balance freedom of expression and safety, but doing this for a community of a billion people from all corners of the world will always be challenging." Barker confirmed that the original account @photoplacegallery had been restored, sans nude photo.

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