Interview with photographer and filmmaker Karni Arieli on Eye Mama
Karni Arieli: “These mothers are tired of the way their story has been told in the media so far.”
On her Instagram channel “Eye Mama Project,” photographer Karni Arieli offers an unfiltered look into the realities of young mothers’ lives. Arieli on her feminist vision, Instagram’s rigorous censorship policy – and her thoughts on motherhood influencers. teNeues Books will publish Eye Mama in June 2023.
Karni, how did you come up with the idea for the “Eye Mama Project”?
I usually make films. My partner and I co-direct animated films and produce music videos. But the lockdown brought me back to photography. Right at the beginning of the pandemic, I got very sick. I’m not sure if it was Corona because there was no way to test yourself at the time. Whenever I am sick and want to recover, I reach out for my camera. It makes me feel like everything is going to be okay and that I can take control of my story again. So I picked up my camera and started documenting my daily life and my kids. The light on the wall.
How did your photographing in lockdown turn into an Instagram channel with 17,000 followers?
When I was on social media during the lockdown, I noticed that a lot of women were doing the same thing. When you’re confined to home, as a freelance artist, you resort to whatever means are available to you. And I thought, this is exactly what I’m looking for. This is honest and true. Then I got the idea to collect all these portfolios of women and mothers. As a mother of two, I felt I had just enough drive to tackle this project. It then took me a year to publish the first post on Instagram. That’s how it all started.
You started the Eye Mama Project at the beginning of the lockdown. How has the pandemic changed the lives of moms?
I think the pandemic made everything more difficult. If you were struggling before, you struggled even more. However, for certain women who were struggling to maintain a healthy work-life balance before, it also made things easier. Some women told me what a relief it was for them to suddenly have their partners home and not having to rush to work. Actually, it’s incredible that we had to go through a life-threatening pandemic to realise what’s really important. Becoming a mother is the best, but also the hardest thing that has happened to me in my life. Every mother knows that it’s not easy and that you often fail. It’s a constant struggle, and that side of it should be seen more.
Why is it so important for women to tell their story?
I think we need to empower women to share their own story. To be the story tellers. Of their own reality. We have to have many different story tellers and points of view. If no one takes the initiative, nothing will ever change. As a curator, I’m probably that in-between person, collecting all these visuals and narratives and trying to bridge the gap. And other women and publishers empower me by sharing eye mama platform.
How are the images selected at “Eye Mama”?
There is a mama gaze flavour. The light and dark. The imperfections and personal truths. In general, I choose images that feel poetic and honest. Also, the photographs have that certain something. Power and undercurrent, and They have to be visual pleasure. As well as a serious component and depth of content.
Why did you nevertheless decide to publish the photographs on Instagram?
The main reasons were practical. Instagram was my first thought when I started the Eye Mama Project. I knew how the platform worked, and I don’t use any other social media platforms privately. Another reason is the visual aspect of the platform. Instagram is used by many photographers. So, it makes sense to connect them and curate from there. From 10 followers we started with, we reached 17k followers in a relatively very short time. That’s the special appeal of Instagram. The power of community and connection.
At the same time, the platform is known for having a rigorous censorship policy when it comes to images showing female nudity. And motherhood in particular.
I had and still have many images censored and removed. In particular breastfeeding. Allegedly, we violated Instagrams guidelines. But the rules and selection are bias. This leads to fear and discomfort for many women to share their pictures. There are even cases where entire profiles are deleted. That’s what happened with “Eye Mama.” The profile was just deleted for no reason, without anyone to talk to about it. That’s the downside to Instagram. In this way, they exclude a large part of society. With censorship and algorithms.
There has also been a focus on photographs of mothers from Ukraine and Russia. Why is it important to you to give this topic a platform?
When the war broke out, women from Ukraine started sending me pictures. These women felt completely powerless. Telling their story was the only thing left for them sometimes. I also made friends with some women. One mother from Ukraine in particular grew very close to me. For her son’s birthday, we sang a birthday song. I wanted to share the struggles as well as the joys. Whatever goes on in the world can be reflected in the female gaze and mama gaze, and it’s important to share.
What’s next for the project now?
Eye Mama is something like a third baby. The Instagram platform is the community. In addition, we are publishing a book out in June 2023. I would also like to create an archive. It would give us a whole different freedom. We could show what we want to show without fear of censorship. I would like greater visibility for mama gaze, exhibitions and talks. Anything that highlights the work. Which is so powerful.
Many women and artists seem to share your vision.
There is a great movement forming right now of women artists trying to recast the narrative of motherhood. These women are tired of the way their story has been told in the media so far. I feel like something is really changing there. Slowly through storytelling and visibility and many smaller stories there can be a shift.
Click here for more information on the book Eye Mama by teNeues Books.