On Saturday, Tom Bianchi, a chronicler of gay life, known internationally for his photography of Fire Island in the 1980s but who has also published over 20 books, found himself locked out of his Instagram account.
“Last Friday evening we saw that an actress in Paris, Marina Foïs, posted one of my Polaroids from The Pines as she has done in the past, to her Instagram account,” Bianchi told Out in an email interview. The photographer then reposted the image on his own account racking up almost 5,000 likes. “On Saturday morning I woke up to find that my Instagram account had been removed in its entirety for violating ‘Community Guidelines.’” The photo itself, “Untitled, 457,”was a relatively tame, post-sex shot featuring a nude man sitting on a bed, looking out of the window.
The reaction on social media came quickly. Bianchi’s husband Ben Smales reposted the image announcing that the account had been suspended. “Tumblr’s recent policy change and the madness of Scruff’s change in profile image guidelines is a deliberate attack to censor us,” he wrote in the caption, referencing a recent slate of moves that have seen major online platforms employ policies that have increasingly affected queer people as well as other marginalized communities. “These corporations earn millions from our collective queer output and history, with Apple as their leader they now move to silence us.”
The post racked up almost 4,000 likes itself as other artists and fans also began posting their own comments, pushing back on the decision. Bianchi called the show of support “heartening.”
“It was like being able to attend your own memorial service and hear people say nice things about you,” he wrote. On Sunday night, with no direct contact with Bianchi — which is typical for the platform,— Instagram re-enabled the account with his original post still available.
“Sorry for the interruption,” Bianchi wrote in a new post. “The powers that be turned the music back on. Please continue dancing.”
The incident underscores a variety of issues with censorship from social media platforms: a combination of a lack of transparency and communication around guidelines that seemingly rely on a censor first, consider later (if pressured) rule of thumb. And so while this may mean that greats like Bianchi, or the well followed on social media like the fetish app Recon, are only temporarily banned, the work of younger, less known artists and individuals can find it a much tougher process to battle.
“As far as my feed goes, what I see there is a celebration of us,” Bianchi wrote of how the interaction may affect his posting moving forward. “That will not change. However, in conjunction with the recent death of creative freedom on Tumblr this situation highlights the need for our work to continue to be seen and shared in the physical world — uncensored.” To that end, the artist will be releasing a book of Polaroid images shot in New York City, as a companion to his Fire Island Pines book, due to launch late spring.