Last month, we told you about photographer Spencer Tunick’s ongoing struggles with Facebook : Tunick takes non-sexual, not particularly explicit photos of nude people, typically large groups of them. Then Facebook takes some of those photos down, freezes his account, and occasionally threatens him with the deletion of his page . It’s a vicious cycle, and not fun for anybody, particularly Spencer Tunick.
A spokesperson from Facebook told us at the time that with few exceptions, the company doesn’t just pull photos down of their own volition. (Those exceptions, he said, involved extreme and graphic images involving things like child pornography.) First, someone has to flag the photo as objectionable; if a content monitor employed by Facebook agrees, the photo comes down. And Chris Park, a representative from the company, told Tunick that if he had any questions about whether a specific photo might violate Facebook’s nudity guidelines, he could email said photo to Park, and he’d let him know where it stood.
Tunick was slightly uncomfortable with that plan, telling us he was ambivalent about the idea that “someone in an office in the middle of wherever – Nebraska, San Francisco – that one person decides what’s OK or not when it comes to the body in art.” But he was game to give it a try. On Valentine’s Day, Tunick sent over six photos, which Park told him he’d forwarded to the company’s “policy folks.” Four days later, Tunick got his answer.
Before we get to Facebook’s response, let’s take a quick look at a few of the photos Tunick sent over. One of them is at the top of this post, part of a series Tunick shot at the Dead Sea. Here are four others:
You can see where this is going. Park wrote back to Tunick and told him that every single one of the photos would be unacceptable for the Facebook-viewing public: “I’m told the images below would violate our community standards on displays of nudity,” he wrote, in an email Tunick shared with the Voice. “Pixelation may make a difference. Let me know if you need anything else.”
So, naked people aren’t OK, and mud or curtain-covered naked people are equally not OK. Seems pretty straightforward.
But in a wonderful coincidence, this month is also when Sports Illustrated releases its annual Swimsuit Issue. This year is the 50th anniversary! Fun! Naturally, the Facebook page for the swimsuit issue (yep, it has its own page), is celebrating in a manner befitting the modesty police at Facebook HQ. Tunick says he was particularly taken with this image:
Yes. That is famed model and Uncle Jessie’s ex-wife Rebecca Romijn, wearing a painted-on swimsuit. Clay-covered Dead Sea people are unacceptable, apparently, while latex paint-covered swimsuit model people are just fine.
Tunick says he won’t bother trying to pixelate the photos, which he’s done previously in order to make them Facebook-kosher.
“Too much work to pixelate all of them,” he writes in an email. “Maybe the nude in art is officially defeated on Facebook now. It’s over, no freedom of visual expression.”
If that sounds drastic, there is one alternate explanation: nudity on Facebook is only acceptable when it involves a famous person, preferably one who’s selling something. That might explain why Tunick’s photos get so assiduously removed, while Sports Illustrated and things like PETA’s Ink Not Mink campaign are apparently Facebook-appropriate (as is, er, the “Naked Girls” fanpage).
If there are any celebrities who enjoy disrobing and might like to smear themselves with Dead Sea mud as a sort of science experiment, we know a photographer who’d probably love to hear from you.
Send your story tips to the author, Anna Merlan.