Lately, I've been reading a book I picked up at YYZ called Crime and Ornament: The Arts and Popular Culture in the Shadow of Adolf Loos. I was searching for ways to combine my interest in the intricate and ornamental paper cut with darker themes of crime and sin - encapsulated by the black veil. However, I found a few names that captured my interest and made me realize that in looking at the face, there is a desire to read the face like a map, to be able to know more by this analysis, by the angles and measurements.
Francis Galton spent many years of study producing a series of composite photographs. He was particularly interested in revealing any common physical traits of criminals. However, he realized that "special villainous irregularities in the latter have disappeared, and the common humanity that underlies them has prevailed. They represent, not the criminal, but the man who is liable to fall into crime." - Composite Portraits, Francis Galton
This made me revisit the beautiful vintage photographs from Sydney, which were taken between the two world wars. The compositions, gestures, facial expressions are so varied and unique. I wondered how mug shots became a standard language. The standard mugshot that we see today was standardized by Alphonse Bertillon, a Parisian criminologist who was interested in the identification and classification of criminals. He came up with five major measurements that were recorded on cards: (1) head length; (2) head breadth; (3) length of the middle finger; (4) the length of the left foot; (5) the length of the "cubit" (the forearm from the elbow to the extremity of the middle finger). Although the introduction of the fingerprint superseded his system, the mug shot endures.
|photographs from Sydney's Justice & Police Museum, Historic Houses Trust|
found in Peter Doyle's book City of Shadows
Here are some photos of Alphonse Bertillon's method at work.
A photograph from Alphonse Bertillon's photo album from his exhibition at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
I'll end off with some work from Louise Noguchi, where she interweaves strips of large scale, self-portrait photographs with photographs of murderers. This mingling of individual identity denies ready distinctions between innocence and culpability, and implies that the capacity to commit a crime lies within each of us.
So much hinges on the face and the identity, desires, crimes, passions, aspirations, convictions. The face we use as our everyday armour is also the thing we hide behind. However, here we see the face as a way to reveal self. When we gaze into the face, we understand that it is beyond empirical analysis. There is something else lingering, hidden, and unknown. The face glows deeper with every story, it endures.