Two New Photography Books Examine the Human Face


A newborn’s vision extends only eight to 12 inches during the first months of life, enough to see her caretakers up close and help cement those early, all-important emotional bonds. It’s no surprise then that the human face has always held a particular fascination for us.

Two photography books, both focusing on the face but taking vastly different approaches, were recently published. Face: The New Photographic Portrait , a collection of portraits from 113 photographers compiled by William A. Ewing, director of the world-famous museum of photography Musie de l’Elysie in Lausanne, Switzerland, highlights the belief in the death of the conventional portrait .

As Ewing explains in an interview with swissinfo , while the photographers’ use of methods that disguise or in some other way alter the face is based on technological advances, scientific and social advances have also left their mark:

There have also been new perceptions about what a face is — think if [sic] the first face transplant last year or genetic engineering which allows a baby’s face to be chosen from a catalogue.

Photographers therefore now approach the face in a different way. It’s all the ways the face can be reinvented and remodelled that best explain the fear expressed in this book. It’s a commentary on the fact that the contours of the face, which always seemed to be fixed, have become something fluid and changeable.

Technology has always opened doors. Digital cameras have ushered in an extraordinary flexibility. It’s not necessarily better, but it’s different. The young generation sees a whole set of new possibilities there and the face is at the top of their priorities.

The second book, published just a month earlier, is Least Wanted: A Century of American Mugshots based on a personal collection of 10,000 mug shots by Mark Michaelson. Its goal is not to alter, enhance or beautify the human face, but instead show it unadorned and under stark and involuntary circumstances.

Michaelson stated he

wasn’t interested in famous criminals or people who’d committed big crimes or very violent crimes. I wanted the small-time people, petty crooks who just fell through the cracks. Instead of being most wanted, these were the least wanted.

As a recent New York Times article pointed out ,

The book also offers a vast compendium of the kind of low-level offenses that have supplied America’s jails with short-time residents over the decades: vagrancy, drunkenness, unlawful cohabitation, flashing, check kiting, car clouting, panhandling, pimping, beer theft and being a Communist.

To catch a glimpse of the type of mug shots found in Michaelson’s book, have a look at his Least Wanted Flickr photostream, broken down into various sets organized by type (e.g., identification papers and badges), decades, geography and gender.

[tags]portrait photography, mug shots, andrea weckerle[/tags]


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