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Fingerprint Project

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In this project, I focused on the human fingerprint as visual pattern and metaphor for the precariousness of human rights. Fingerprints, ironically, play two roles in society. They are marks of the unique identity of each human being and they are tools of social control, used to track and incarcerate suspected criminals. The process of taking fingerprints is also a degrading experience in which our humanness is stripped away, reducing a person to a recorded bit of information on paper. That which stands for our individuality becomes cold and impersonal, tinged with negative connotations of state control, regimentation and denial of privacy.

To highlight the dual role of fingerprints, I printed the right middle finger of men and women whose struggle to achieve dignity, freedom and self-expression brought them into conflict with government authorities. To place these fingerprints in context, I interviewed each person to elicit the events that led him or her into trouble with the law.

In the installation, the fingerprints take the place of conventional photographic portraits. Each interview is juxtaposed with the fingerprint of the person whose story is presented. To counter the usual dehumanizing connotation of fingerprints, each print is greatly enlarged to 50" in height. The prints appear so monumental at that size that the symbolic individuality of the individuals concerned cannot be ignored.

Another component of the installation consists of a large mural that uses the prints of project participants as elements of drawing. The merging of these individuals' unique swirls, whorls and arches into one visual piece symbolizes the fact that we are not alone in facing threats to human dignity.

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© 2006–2015 Karen Moss. All rights reserved.