This project examines and reimagines an album of historical images, from the collection of the Archive of Modern Conflict, which were purported to have been taken by an unnamed Cleveland policeman in the 1960s, who produced erotic images of black women in his spare time. As an artist Mia Salvato is neither interested in the culture of sexual permissiveness that defined the 60s era nor in the moral fallibilities of the policemen in question, whom, despite his dubious pastimes, was reported to have had a long and illustrious career in law-enforcement. What interests them, however, is how the reading of these images, today, cannot exist outside postmodern concepts of knowledge and power. By juxtaposing and overlaying image and test print used for chemical and color control in C-type analogue printing machines (reminding us of police identity lines, pantone charts and early ethno-anthropological photography), they open up a debate about the politicisation of the representation of the female body, gender performance and photographer/subject power relations and their implications on contemporary photographic discourse.
This project is therefore best understood as a kind of ”reflexive” ethnography, which attempts to elucidate features of a (moral) culture by reproducing it faithfully — albeit intentionally provocatively—, and, concomitantly, as a commentary on critical cultural, feminist and identity theories and studies and how this has shaped conversations about photography. Finally, the work also explores the synchronous histories of anthropology and colonialism and their intersection with the practice of photography, as well as the ethical question related to issues around informed consent, privacy, copyright, representation, circulation, anonymity and manipulation in visual research.
[Mia Salvato is the anonymous heteronym of an established UK artist and author, whose gender remains undisclosed.]