Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Afghan Girl and Biometrics

Found this combined image whilst searching for images to illustrate a presentation on The Surveillant Identity at 4S/EASST. It caught my attention because the original image on the left, 'Afghan Girl' by Steve McCurry is the subject of one of the articles in Beautiful Suffering, the book I reviewed for Surveillance and Society. The article, 'Cover to Cover: the life cycle of an image in contemporary visual culture' looks at the circulation, and issues of power, representation and the ethics of 'taking' images, using this photo as a case study.

Then it turns up, with presumably a more recent photograph of the same woman, on the website of a university researcher looking at biometric identification technology. There was no caption or attribution of the photo, leaving yet another contextless image that is supposed to 'speak for itself', but the implication is - biometric enable us to...

do what exactly? find somebody who become famous without her knowledge or agency then disappeared back into afghanistan during a peroid of political turmoil. Great. did she want to be identified in this way? whose purposes does it serve? A women exploited to sell magazines, and all manner of stuff (as edwards examines and discusses) is now used to sell a surveillance technology.

1 comment:

  1. Of course, the background is that the original photo was taken many years ago, and ran as the cover of a National Geographic. After 2001, the photographer went looking for her, and subsequently found her. Hence the new pic. Biometrics weren't involved.
    And yes Nat Geo ran the story.