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Interview with photographer and feminist Karni Arieli on Eye Mama

Photographer and feminist 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 criticism of Happy Family influencers. teNeues Books will publish Eye Mama in June 2023.


Ms. Arieli, 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 can’t say in hindsight if it was Corona because there was no way to test yourself back then, but my family and I were very scared. 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.


How did your quarantine hobby turn into an Instagram channel with 12,000 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 stuck at home, as a freelance artist, you resort to whatever means are available to you. And I thought, this is exactly what I need right now. 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 just enough strength to tackle this little 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 realize 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 should finally be seen.


Why is it so important for women to tell their stories?

How come women are the supporting characters in the story of life? Why are we always the best friend? Why can’t we play the leading role? Why are we either sexy sweethearts or Mother Teresa? Why can’t we be superman? I think we need to empower women to share their story. It takes people in top positions, whether men or women, to make that happen. If no one takes the initiative, nothing will ever change. As a curator, I’m probably that in-between person, collecting all these things and trying to bridge the gap.


How are the images selected at “Eye Mama”?

The selection of images depends a lot on how many photos I get sent. At the beginning of the project, when there were only about 100 applications, I had much more time to select images, whereas with 27,000 submissions, it’s much more difficult. In general, I choose images that feel poetic and honest. Also, the photographs should have that certain something. They have to be a visual pleasure to look at. And most importantly, they should also have a serious component and depth of content. I don’t really like happy family pictures of classic influencers.


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. We reached 8000 followers in a very short time. That’s the special appeal of Instagram.


At the same time, the platform is known for having a rigorous censorship policy when it comes to images showing female nudity.

This is really a tough nut to crack. I got a notification every time another picture was removed that showed a nursing mother or too much naked skin. Allegedly, we had published indecent images and thus violated the Instagram guidelines. 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 to me with “Eye Mama.” It broke my heart. I worked on the project for so long without any financial support and then the profile is just deleted for no reason, without anyone to talk to about it. This action leads to Instagram becoming a platform that can only be used by men or by people who are not mothers. In this way, they exclude a large part of society.


Currently, there is a special 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. I also made friends with some women. One mother from Ukraine in particular grew very close to my heart. For her son’s birthday we sang a birthday serenade and she also wished my boy a happy birthday. But when this woman then tells us that bombs are falling outside while we ourselves are sitting safely in Great Britain, it is of course very shocking. That shows how important empathy and empathy are for the project.


What’s next for the project now?

Eye Mama is something like my third baby. The Instagram channel is just the beginning. I want to publish a book, I want to go on TV and so much more. It would give us a whole different freedom. We could show what we want to show without fear of censorship. In addition, we would like to try to get funding for the mothers and me. It’s no longer financially sustainable to run an Instagram channel without some kind of sponsorship.


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. You can literally feel the topic seeping into all areas of life. I think that’s a wonderful development!


Click here for more information on the book Eye Mama by teNeues Books.