Using China’s one-child policy as an example, Miia Autio’s latest project examines how photography is used for identification, surveillance and control
During the 34 years in which China’s one-child policy was implemented, between 1979 and 2013 an estimated 13 million second children were born. With a lack of crucial identification documents, these unregistered citizens were denied national education, health care, and, in some cases, the right to marry. It was this discovery that kick-started Miia Autio’s project, Your Face Here, a visual investigation into methods and identification, and how photography and facial recognition can be used within this for surveillance and control.
With this in mind, Autio began researching historical means of identifying people. In 1890, French police officer Alphonse Bertillon developed a system of classification based on physical measurements, applying this to law enforcement to identify criminals. “Nowadays everything is digital, but I wanted to bring it back to the analogue,” Autio explains. “If we had to take part in facial recognition physically, it would feel really uncomfortable.”
Currently on show at the Northern Photographic Centre in Finland, Autio’s home-country, where she is currently completing her MFA at the University of the Arts in Helsinki, Your Face Here features motifs that are associated with identity and classification. Using objects like rulers and jigsaw puzzles, Autio began to build a playful aesthetic, relating this to the children who were affected by the one-child policy. The project also employs a loose primary colour scheme, a nod to school as the place where we are taught to conform to rules and norms.
Collectively, the various threads of history, technology, and social control that weave through Your Face Here is thought provoking; it raises questions about how rapidly these systems of classification have developed in the digital age, and photography’s integral role within this.