In the early 1900s, tobacco companies produced illustrated cigarette cards that were sold as collectibles to consumers of tobacco. National Types of Beauty was one such set. Issued in 1928, it consists of 36 portraits of women who, according to the British eye, exemplified the beauty of a given race. Each card is a black and white photograph depicting a woman and describing her according to facial appearance, colouring, class, level of education, and who she belonged to. These descriptions classified women as specimens while classifying race according to colonial desires of the era. This practice emerged from ethnographic photography of that period and is problematic in its representations of race and women.
This project reworks the original images, modifying them through digital collage. These digital interventions subvert the racial classification of the portraits by digitally inserting artist Cherine Fahd’s ‘Arabic’ eyes onto the faces of each of the women. For Fahd, this act tests, critiques and challenges the ethnographic classification of appearance upon racial grounds by collapsing the colonial and misogynist gaze.
National Types of Beauty was selected for the Athens Photo Festival in Greece in 2018. It was also previously exhibited at Artereal Gallery, Sydney as well as in the curated exhibition, An Unorthodox Flow of Images at the Centre for Contemporary Photography in Melbourne. This project was funded by an Australia Council for the Arts project grant and provided the springboard for the associated article, ‘Classifying ‘national types of beauty’: from cigarette cards to Miss Universe,’ published on The Conversation.