So much has happened between originally interviewing Jennifer Adler (she can now be found at @mrs.rabe_takes_pictures on Instagram) and publishing this article that it’s important to mention it considering the nature of part of our discussion below. In this space of time, her original account @photos_by_frau_rabe has been permanently removed by Instagram. Upon learning that she could make a request to have her data sent to her, she was informed that they erased everything. Forever. This has been a shocking piece of news, because I consider Jennifer and her work to be respectful of their “guidelines”, no matter how ridiculous these guidelines may be. While some of us are really fighters on this matter and pushing those guidelines back in their faces, I always thought of Jennifer as being more of the hippie/peace/love one of the pack.
FFU: Could you tell us about your background in photography?
JA: When I started to take photographs, there was no specific goal in my mind and it was not at all clear, where this journey would lead me. To feel the camera in my hand and to capture images was primarily a method of relaxation and meditation. Then the camera became not only a lens into undiscovered realms, but unlocked pathways to new mindsets, remarkable people and beautiful moments and my world gained new dimensions.
FFU: That’s really a powerful experience and relationship you have with the camera. How has your work changed throughout the years?
JA: In the beginning, I only took pictures of motionless objects, but rather soon I realized that there are different aspects of photography, which capture the focus of my attention and imagination. The interaction with people, who stood in front of my camera, whose essence I tried to picture, was and is where my real fascination with the subject lies. Even though I started out with portrait photography and diversified my portfolio with art projects, my range of work also comprises wedding photography, which is still part of my income stream.
Like most photographers I also try to reach for the evanescent, to distill the quintessence of minuscule fractions of time and to paint a two-dimensional impression of a multidimensional reality. But with time my focus has completely shifted to the human being, the presence in front of my camera, as said by H.Hesse: 'the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world's phenomena intersect, only once in this way, and never again'.
When I started to engage with topics like feminism and equality it was apparent from the start that these topics would find their way into my work as a photographer. Quote If you start a journey, where you immerse yourself in the experience, this endeavor will not only be reflected in your art, but it will become part of your art because it will be an undeniable part of you.
FFU: This is the divine intersection, right? I think I have an idea of the answer to this question, but what, or who inspires your photography?
JA: To depict emotions was and will always be my greatest passion and inspiration.Emotions are our neural bedrock, they enable us to make decisions, they are the color of our experiences and decide, what we convert into a memory. The same emotional range can be detected in all human beings on this planet, no matter what gender, what cultural background,what language you speak, what climate dominates your surrounding or what educational background, your face and your body will be governed by the six basic emotions.And to show the myriad variations and the immense diversity of this sameness, the individuality of this foundation of what it means to be human, therein lies my personal rapture and neverending fascination.
As an artist I see sparks of inspiration in innumerable sources, I would even go as far as to say, there is nothing, which cannot evoke an inspiration.
Often conversations with close friends and women in my immediate environment will lead to moments of inspiration. I can consider myself lucky, since I am a part of a large network of truly inspiring women, with whom I constantly exchange ideas, thoughts, and perceptions. It's comparable to a shared journey,where we each walk at our own pace, in our own shoes, with our own baggage, but nevertheless on the same road.
United we stand on various fronts and try to advocate for women and gender equality. Being an artist, a coach, a mother, a leader, an employee or a freelancer is only one of the many facets by which we define ourselves. The topics are as manifold as we are and we all learn from and with each other.
FFU: OK, let's get down to business. You and I have already had some conversations about the censorship climate on social media. What, in your opinion, is going on?
JA: This is an excellent question. Unfortunately, I still haven't met anybody, who could explain the details of the operating principles of the algorithms, which monitor, for instance, what kind of content gets redacted, censored or removed on Instagram. In any case it's striking that pictures and contributions concerning topics like bodyposivity, femininity, and sex get redacted, removed or censored much faster than other postings.
Officially the guidelines of the community are designed to show and cater to the needs of a diverse society.But a more realistic assessment of the day to day operation shows that postings about marginalized bodies will be censored much faster than postings, which portray bodies, which conform to the Western ideals of beauty.
Anything, which is confronting or not conforming to beauty industry standards faces a much greater risk to get censored.Time and time again I could observe how contributions with hashtags like #bodypositivity #bodylove #powertotheperiod #femalefuture #sexpositive #metoo #stopracism #vivalavulva and so many more get temporarily blocked or simply become invisible.
I would like to give some references to articles that underpin our "feeling" and confirm that it is not just a feeling, but that this kind of censorship really exists and why it is so dangerous. You will find these references at the end of the interview.
FFU: Thank you for sharing some educational material with our readers! What are some of your own personal experiences dealing with this?
JA: In the beginning I only observed how accounts, I was following, got censored or deleted. How they became shadowbanned and in succession their content was no longer visible for the community.
How it became more and more difficult to discover their new postings, since they didn't appear in my newsfeed anymore. All these become gutsier and louder.
And from that point on it was only a matter of time until I myself was affected by the same problems. My postings got deleted, the reach of my profile got restricted and my pictures were not displayed under the chosen hashtags. It is exhausting and frustrating to be exposed to arbitrariness. On one hand, feminist art seems to vanish faster than we can create or reproduce it and on the other hand contributions, which are blatantly sexist, racist or misogynist do not get removed, even if they are reported by numerous people.
FFU: It’s this very paradox that drives me crazy. How has censorship in particular motivated your photography, cos it definitely seems to have. I for one am SO grateful to see a positive coming out of this negativity on social media!
JA: This could be characterized as defiance on my part, a small rebellious part inside of me ...(laughing)..., but the whole censorship issue is obviously a trigger for me.
One of the roots of my motivation can probably be traced back to a quote from Leo Baeck from 1932: 'There is also a history of what people have been silent about'. And I don't want to look back and think, was I part of this “silent” history?
It's often been little steps, small changes and minor setbacks, where nobody spoke up or people thought, that's not my problem, it's only relevant for this minority, so nothing to get riled up about. And once the predicament reaches your own doorstep it might be too late to act upon. This is why I try, even if on a very small scale, to reach people, to confront worries and to show how we are all profoundly individual in all our sameness. My way of trying to connect is to use my art, in the language of my photography.
And evidently, it is more than annoying to be confronted with a platform, which calls itself 'social', but which at the same time relies on puritanical guidelines and which makes the interactions of artists more and more difficult and in the long run perhaps even impossible. At the moment I am trying to gauge the limits of Instagram's guidelines, what posts are still doable, what kind of art is still acceptable on the platform. But lately, I had to realize that not only the algorithms of Instagram, which arbitrarily reject some of my contributions, lead to less visibility of my work but I have also been a victim of a culture of denunciation, where people, who are seemingly on the moral high ground, report my photography. And I am for sure not the only one who is experiencing this.
FFU: Something I enjoy about your photography is that you have no fear of subjects some may find taboo or difficult to talk about. What do you have to say with this confrontation?
JA: My personal point of view was always that most taboos are either related to fear or ignorance and my parents brought me up to be fearless and curious.
Or in other words 'There is no darkness but ignorance.' Shakespeare – Twelfth Night
I would like to be a role model for having the courage to be curious about the world, to not be discouraged, to strive for your own experiences, to listen to one another and to come together to shape an open-minded, tolerant society.
It is undeniably difficult to form your own opinions on complex issues, to question and reconsider your own views and to listen to ideas, with which you don't agree and which make you uncomfortable or to identify and address your own biases, but that makes it all the more necessary to at least try and challenge others to do the same.
We are all connected by the same ancestors, we are all ruled by the same neurotransmitters and cognitive biases and we are all enmeshed in the same networks of family and friends and if we encounter one another with respect and empathy, there will be enough common ground for all of us to discover a profound bond, which can define our humanity.
FFU: I think this part on biases is so important and often times I think people, out of fear do not want to try confronting these biases because it’s just easier for them to turn a blind eye. But when we face our fears - this is where the magic happens. For anyone out there raging along with us right now - how can they help or fight back in your opinion?
JA: It certainly is paramount to be engaged in this battle together (even though I only reluctantly call it a battle, because of all the negative connotations, which are attached to this word).
Only together can we achieve visibility for our areas of interest and for ourselves or make our art a more prominent feature of open discussions.
Offline – the real world is at least as important, look around yourselves, where are women, who you would like to support, with whom you would like to connect. I certainly don't want to encourage the formation of “gangs”, but I would like to call upon all women to be brave and to stand up in the face of prejudice, oppression and injustice!
And if you have no idea where or how to start, here are some starting points and ideas, to help you out: online: follow and support contributions from female artists. A good way to start: @curatedbygirls @rps100heroines make networks with women, share articles about these topics with your friends.
Offline: look for exhibitions of female artists in your area. Check out books from the library on art written by women. Talk about women who inspire you. Stand by women in your environment if they are treated unequally.Treat women equally.
Lately, I have seen many artists leave Instagram to look for a different medium, where less censorship and restrictions are applied...but I worry that these self-inflicted exiles, won't be the solution for this situation. My art is neither offensive nor filthy or disquieting and issues of everyday life, issues, which occur in the middle of our society and that's exactly the place, where I want to display my artwork!
FFU: Any last words of inspiration, knowledge, humor for everyone?
JA: Once you have found an issue, which ignites your passion, most barriers and obstacles just vanish. I am not saying it is easy or will get any easier with time, but my personal journey would be so much more exhausting if it were not for the constant support of my family and friends.
So, please look for and identify those people in your life, who understand you and who challenge you. At the same time try to dissociate yourself from toxic relationships and try to remain loyal to your underlying compass. Love yourself, but don't take yourself too seriously. Try time and again to find or create opportunities for people, who are even less heard than yourself, open a stage to them, lend them your platform, try to support them and thus create more diversity: in your life, in the world outside and on social media!
My gratitude for the opportunity to speak to you about my work and my thoughts, runs very deep, and I am honestly grateful to be a part of this community. Following your account for a while now, I have already been amazed by a lot of artists you featured. Your contribution on this journey to build up a community, where a huge variety of female photographers can find a home and feel seen, is truly inspiring and admirable.
Jennifer’s reading material:
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Queer Visibility Through Selfies: Comparing Platform Mediators Across Ruby Rose’s Instagram and Vine Presence
BORDERLINE OBSESSED: Instagram will demote “inappropriate content”—and self expression along the way