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  • Victoria Applegarth

Pushing the Boundaries of Nipple Censorship: Meet Iris Kaufman

© Image by Iris Kaufman

The female nipple: when did this little section of our bodies become such a societal taboo?

Whilst, platforms such as Instagram and Meta advertise limitless possibility and content creation, they have both been the subject of intense backlash for aggressively censoring female and queer nudity. Too right - we are tired of this!

Censorship serves as a poignant reminder that much of today's society views female bodies as being inherently sexual. Ultimately, this form of gendered moderation has major ramifications for women's status on the internet and is a reflection of the clear double standards many of us have to deal with on a daily basis. As a result, artists and creatives alike are utilising the physical and online space to probe and protest, in ways that algorithms and restrictions do not easily assimilate.

One creative, who we had the pleasure of interviewing, is photographer and porn filmmaker, Iris Kaufman in her series, titled "Sensural". By strategically incorporating everyday objects as a cover for the nipple, her work offers images of unflinching honesty; embarking on an artistic journey that continually evolves with Instagram’s Terms of Service. Her work undoubtedly pushes and challenges social media's governance of nudity and sexuality and generates room for nuance and contemplation - a crucial component of any freedom of expression movement.

Firstly, could you tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a photographer and porn filmmaker?

I started taking pictures when I was 13 or 14 years old when my grandmother Eva gave me a compact digital camera for the first time. Later, in the last years of my university studies in audiovisual arts, my desire to explore porn became stronger and stronger. I became interested and passionate about independent cinema from a gender perspective. At the end of my studies, I decided to write my thesis on the representation of sexuality in films, which became part of my research alongside audiovisual porn experiments.

© Image by Iris Kaufman

So, in terms of your photography, your main series on Instagram is based around coming up with creative solutions to cover the nipple – what inspired you to start this series, and what is the aim behind the series?

"Sensural" is the name of the series. It is about finding possible nipples on things and being able to censor them sensually in this way. The series also offers creative solutions to the battle against the algorithm of social networks, which continues to focus on increasing gender inequality.

The series began as an evolution of an earlier series of self-portraits titled "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear" (2018). I uploaded this series to Instagram as an experiment as I was aware of the existing censorship, and I saw that Instagram was not removing it. I started thinking about how the censorship algorithm works. I realised that the algorithm overlooked the breast by completely isolating it from its context (the human body). These were all assumptions because since Instagram is not overtly coded, it is very complex to understand how censorship works in social media.

After that, I wondered if what happens in "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear" could also happen if I isolate the nipple from the breast or the breast from the nipple - would the algorithm recognise that?

In 2020, I uploaded a photo of a pink billboard with a hole in the middle and my nipple in it. The theory survived the first test. Then I uploaded a photo of my chest with the nipple literally censored (with a temporary tattoo in the shape of the censor mark). It passed the second test. From then on, I started the series, which currently has over fifteen self-portraits and is still in progress.

© Image by Iris Kaufman

Among your works, which one is your favourite? Why?

My favourite piece at the moment is the Golden Nipple because it is a piece that consists of two parts. Firstly, there is the jewelry itself - a bronze piece made from a cast of my own nipple. Then there is the photograph of the jewel being worn, which is also a sensual censoring device. It's one of my favourite images because I feel that, in a way, it's like a trophy - an uncensored yet real nipple.

Your work aims to push the boundaries of censorship – how has Instagram responded to your work? Has there been any censorship that has impacted your engagement?

I feel that I am very exposed to Instagram and that it shapes the way I see and think. But I also think that this social network shapes me so much that I was able to resist the algorithm. I don't think I've won the war yet, because there have been situations where they've censored my photos. I think that one day they might delete my account, and I'm trying to mentally prepare myself for that. But on the other hand, Instagram users have reacted very well to the "Sensural" series and I think they are happy to see something more than censorship and to keep talking about the #freethenipple issue.

What is your opinion on the #FreeTheNipple movement?

I think it's a historical movement that started long before the hashtag, and I'm grateful for it because it makes us aware of the differences that still exist between men and the rest of humanity. I think #freethenipple is about understanding that censorship is a tool of power and that we want to break through this sexualisation of breasts.

© Image by Iris Kaufman

If our society loves boobs so much, what do you think it has against nipples?

Society is afraid of freedom. There is no problem against submissive tits and nipples, but when we use them how and when we want, it is scary.

Some say that the reason that the female nipple is so hyper-sexualised is because of porn culture. As a porn filmmaker yourself, what are your thoughts on this?

Even more than the body, the gaze is full of sexualisation. The male gaze, present in the history of cinema since its beginnings, is an instrument used to socially define women as sexual objects. Porn has explored and hyper-sexualised the female body as a speciality of the audiovisual genre. So the reason why the female nipple is so hypersexualised is because of culture in general.

#FreeTheNipple continues to trend online, but Instagram and Meta show little sign of doing anything to change their guidelines. What do you hope for the future of the nipple? Will we ever achieve true nipple equality?

I personally believe that we are still very far away from the nipple being completely free, but we are gradually seeing small progress. It's a topic that is on everyone's lips on the internet, but there is a large section of society that is beyond our current discussions and will be the most difficult to deal with. It is about changing national, social, and cultural laws. I hope that one day we will achieve true equality for nipples.

© Image by Iris Kaufman

Finally, what is a current project you’re working on now?

I am currently coordinating the post-production of the videos of HDN, a personal project I have been developing since 2019. It's an independent porn production based in Buenos Aires that I have together with Maité Gorostordoy. Soon there will be news on @hedonistasweb.

Follow Iris Kaufman on her Instagram and Twitter


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