‘Kodak Shirley is the Norm’: On Racism and Photography
Rosa Wevers is a student of the research master gender and ethnicity at Utrecht University. In the first semester of 2016-2017 she will be studying at Lund University in Sweden to specialize in feminist approaches to Visual Culture studies. Her interests lie in feminist philosophy, visual culture, and the cultural and political possibilities of art. Next to her studies, Rosa is the co- founder of the feminist organization Mark Our Words, for which she organizes lectures and discussion evenings.
This article aims to investigate to what extent photography can be considered racist in relation to the color photography of the 1950s. By focusing on the Polaroid ID-2 camera and the Kodak Shirley cards that were used by photographers in the 1950s, this article shows how the color photography of the 1950s was connected to a normativity of ‘whiteness’. By the use of Foucault’s concept of ‘biopower’, I will show how the South African government used the Polaroid ID-2 camera for ‘Pass Books’ by which a system of racial segregation was maintained. On a more abstract level, I will show by the use of two case studies that early color photography can be placed in a context of mediations of the racialized body, in which the black body has a long history of being classified. This raises questions about the myth of the photographic truth and the objectivity of technology, which I will address in this article. I will conclude that photography as a medium is influenced by the discourse of society and is at the same time able to influence this discourse itself. This makes it possible to understand how photography can be considered racist.