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Juha Arvid Helminen’s Photography Series “The Invisible Empire” Criticizes the Power of Uniforms

One's manner of dress can lead to powerful transformations. Switching up the ways we present our gender identity or our occupation can inspire us to act in ways we wouldn't otherwise. While this can be empowering, photographer Juha Arvid Helminen investigates the ways uniforms denoting positions of power can grant their wearers permission to commit inhumane acts. "In 2006, I witnessed the so-called Smash ASEM 'riot,'" writes the artist. "There I personally saw the dark side of the Finnish police. How young men hid behind their uniforms and hoods and anonymously committed misconduct. Later I witnessed the reluctance of the justice system to punish those in uniforms."

One’s manner of dress can lead to powerful transformations. Switching up the ways we present our gender identity or our occupation can inspire us to act in ways we wouldn’t otherwise. While this can be empowering, photographer Juha Arvid Helminen investigates the ways uniforms denoting positions of power can grant their wearers permission to commit inhumane acts. “In 2006, I witnessed the so-called Smash ASEM ‘riot,'” writes the artist. “There I personally saw the dark side of the Finnish police. How young men hid behind their uniforms and hoods and anonymously committed misconduct. Later I witnessed the reluctance of the justice system to punish those in uniforms.”

In his monochromatic photo series “The Invisible Empire,” figures clothed in black stand barely visible against black backgrounds. Helminen’s costuming takes inspiration from instances in history where uniformed bearers of authority committed atrocities. The tailoring of his subjects’ coats evokes Nazi military jackets while his conical headpieces evoke the ominous robes of the KKK. Helminen leaves his models’ faces obscured, alluding to the ways personal identity and moral judgment can be obfuscated in the name of duty and social belonging.

 

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