In this series, Myra Greene, a contemporary photographer, uses herself as a subject to examine how the perception of race clouds the perception of the individual. Greene forces us to see her both as a subject and as a racialized object. Her images emphasize the role of the photograph in defining ideas about blackness and black bodies.
Greene uses a form of photograph known as an ambrotype, which was prevalent from 1854 to 1865 and used by early ethnographers. At the time, ethnography focused on defining race and categorizing people based on physical and cultural difference. Ethnographers used photography to dehumanize black people and present them as visual objects as seen in the work of French photographer Albert d’Arnoux Bertal (http://commons.princeton.edu/seeingtoremember/staging/bertall-mixed-race-cora-age-18-born-of-a-negro-father-and-indian-mother/).
Their images and measurements often focused on physical features such as nose length or ear shape, both of which Greene demonstrates in this series. Through her ambrotypes, Greene is projecting herself into this past, reminding us of the photographic origins of ideas about blackness.
The divots of her pores and the hair-thin creases of her wrinkles are uniquely Greene’s. Although the general shapes and colors of the facial features she focuses on are legible as features of “blackness,” these images are still uniquely of her as an individual. The lines and wrinkles of her face are as specific to her as her fingerprints. Nevertheless, these features are not immediately legible as “Myra Greene,” and the more legible features of race such as her skin tone define how she is perceived.
By Joshua Gardner