This website provides information on the PhD. project „Composite & Eigenface. Histories and Continuities of Human Measurement between Arts and Science.“ at the International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture (GCSC) at Liebig University Giessen, Germany. Read the preliminary abstract. Info on other projects by Raul Gschrey.
Gay Composite Portraits? American Scientists Develop Algorithms That Trace Homosexuality in the Face (Raul Gschrey)
Composite screening is back again… For a study conducted at Stanford University, USA, two scientists, Michal Kosinski and Yilun Wang, have developed an algorithm that aims to detect the sexual orientation of individuals in their facial appearance. The scientists draw on pictures from a dating website and claim that their big-data experiment reveals the homosexual orientation of men with a certainty of 81%, that of women with 74% by means of their special facial recognition and matching software. The deep neural networks (DNN) adopted by artificial intelligence (AI) would excel at recognizing patterns in large unstructured data in order to make predictions. The results of the AI, they argue, were more reliable than the human brain and revealed the limits of human perception. The authors conclude that sexual orientation might be pre-natal (probably inherited) and that this inner disposition is shown in the outer facial appearance. Here we are back again in Francis Galton’s world: In a revived version of prejudice-entrenched nineteenth-century scientific positivism.
Wang, Yilun; Kosinski, Michal: “Composite faces and the average facial landmarks built by averaging faces classified as most and least likely to be gay.” In: Wang, Yilun; Kosinski, Michal: “Deep Neural Networks Can Detect Sexual Orientation From Faces.” Forthcoming in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. [https://osf.io/zn79k]
And here the whole endeavor becomes most problematic, the scientist have chosen to publish composite portraits of male and female – gay and straight ‘faces’, showing “the average landmark locations and aggregate appearance of the faces classified as most and least likely to be gay.” And this visual data is in a second step used to classify the outer appearance of homosexual people. These remarks sound just like an excerpt from Lombroso’s or Galton’s work, who are not only known as father figures of the racist and ‘pseudo-scientific’ fields of criminal anthropology and eugenics, but also pioneered the technique of composite portraiture:
“Average landmark locations revealed that gay men had narrower jaws and longer noses, while lesbians had larger jaws. Composite faces suggest that gay men had larger foreheads than heterosexual men, while lesbians had smaller foreheads than heterosexual women.”
In their article Kosinski and Wang mention the long problematic (scientific) history of physiognomy, but argue that, despite all taboos, scientific evidence suggested such a link. In the case of the visual signs for specific sexual orientations, they point to hormonal theories and genetic dispositions, but also social factors; or ‘nature and nurture’ as it is referred to in the report, an expression coined by Sir Francis Galton himself. And this inconsiderate approach to scientific theories, techniques and terminology of the past seems to characterize their study, such as the application of the term ‘race’ in relation to ethnic diversity.
As sort of a disclaimer, ethical issues and privacy concerns are discussed and the authors warn that government and private agencies were already involved with identifying face-based classifiers that are aimed at detecting intimate traits. While Kosinski and Wang argue that their findings could alert the public, rather than providing evidence against a minority group, the thoughtless and (historically) uncritical publication of a visually strong and potentially derogative composite portrait is highly questionable and might be dangerous. This is attested by a number of newspaper articles that present short and oversimplified summaries of the findings and often use the ‘gay composite’ as a visual anchor. Some are thinking the approach further and warn of algorithms that could detect psychological disposition and political inclination in the face, while other journalists focus on the criticism from LGBT groups.
 See: The Telegraph, 8.9.2017 [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2017/09/08/ai-can-tell-people-gay-straight-one-photo-face] & The Economist, 9.9.2017 [https://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21728614-machines-read-faces-are-coming-advances-ai-are-used-spot-signs?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/ed/advancesinaiareusedtospotsignsofsexuality]
 See: The Guardian, 8.9.2017 [https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/08/ai-gay-gaydar-algorithm-facial-recognition-criticism-stanford]
08.02.2017 18.00. Vortrag bei “Briefings”, Institut für Kunstpädagogik, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, Sophienstraße 1-3.
Kompositgesichter. Eine kurze Geschichte einer unheimlichen fotografischen Technik.
Die Kompositfotografie, die statistische und physiognomische mit evolutionstheoretischen Theorien und mit dem Medium der Fotografie verbindet, wurde im späten neunzehnten Jahrhundert von dem Britischen Wissenschaftler Francis Galton entwickelt. Die Überblendung der Portraits sollte dazu dienen physiognomische Charakteristika und in Beziehung stehende genetische Dispositionen zu visualisieren. Die fotografischen Konstruktionen zeigen diffuse Züge, unheimliche Gesichter, denen jedoch eine große Deutungskraft zugemessen wurde. Trotz ihrer zweifelhaften Konnotationen durch ihre Nutzung in Kriminologie, Visuelles Anthropologie, Rassenforschung und eugenischer Forschung erlebt die Technik in heutigen künstlerischen Positionen eine Renaissance.
“Portrait of a Type, Type of Portrait: Composite Portraiture between Science and Art.” Raul Gschrey (Gießen, Frankfurt)
Abstact of my presentation at the conference „Doing Face“ at Goethe University Frankfurt, October 2016.
The photographic technique of composite portraiture superimposes facial views of different people in order to create a collective portrait. The frontal views of the surreal blurry figures usually look straight at the viewer and create an uncanny feeling of familiarity. In contemporary arts and popular culture we encounter a variety of these facial compositions that are predominantly digitally produced. But the origins of the technique lie in late nineteenth-century, when the relatively new medium of photography became established as a scientific tool. Presupposing the alignment of outer appearance with inner dispositions, Francis Galton, who is better known as the founder of eugenics, developed composite portraiture as an analytical technique to visualise typical appearances of groups of people. The photographic superimpositions sought to give a face to phenomena such as criminality, physical and psychological illnesses, race, but also to more positively connoted notions such as health, likeness and family resemblance. The technique enjoyed a considerable popularity in positivist scientific circles of criminology, medicine and psychiatry, anthropology, racial science and eugenics that only abated in early twentieth century. Apart from a small number of examples, the technique fell into disuse and only resurfaced in the 1980’s at the eve of another visual revolution, when media artist Nancy Burson took up composite portraiture and developed techniques of digital facial morphing. In recent years artists have questioned the explanatory value of the visual constructions, they have translated the technique into moving images and explored their potential in times of an omnipresence of self-portrayal and identification in social networks.
The paper will try to make sense of the special type of portrait and examine the nature of the visual constructions between their functions as averaging, as well as typifying devices. How was the founder of composite portraiture “doing face” and staging the “face as event” and which central impulses, preconceptions, and discourses formed the technique’s utilisation in nineteenth-century? This historical perspective will be expanded with late twentieth and early twenty-first-century artistic positions that explore the technique in times of interconnected digital media and computerised facial recognition.
Eine Tagung an der Goethe-Universität nimmt unter dem Titel „Doing Face: Gesicht als Ereignis“ die unterschiedlichen Dimensionen der Gesichtlichkeit in den Fokus. Veranstalter sind das Forschungszentrum Historische Geisteswissenschaften Frankfurt und das Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung Berlin.
Das Gesicht ist die Visitenkarte des Menschen, sein Aussehen prägt den wichtigen ersten Eindruck. Das Gesicht ist die Bühne, auf der sich unsere echten Emotionen abspielen, auf der wir uns aber auch ganz bewusst inszenieren können. Auf der Theaterbühne spielt es denn auch seit jeher eine große Rolle. Die Bedeutung der „Gesichtlichkeit“ wächst jedoch noch im Zeitalter der digitalen Medien, Fachleute sprechen von der „fazialen Gesellschaft“. Eine Tagung an der Goethe-Universität nimmt unter dem Titel „Doing Face: Gesicht als Ereignis“ die unterschiedlichen Dimensionen des Themas in den Fokus. Veranstalter sind das Forschungszentrum Historische Geisteswissenschaften Frankfurt und das Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung Berlin.
Kunstgeschichte, Medienwissenschaft, Literaturwissenschaften – die Konferenz bringt Vertreter verschiedener Disziplinen zusammen und bezieht auch Erkenntnisse aus anderen Wissenschaften wie der Biologie und der Psychologie mit ein. Zudem werden Bilder des weißrussischen Künstlers Maxim Wakultschik gezeigt, der sich in seinen fotografischen Arbeiten mit der Produktivität des Gesichts in der Gegenwartskultur auseinandersetzt.
Programm Doing Face weiterlesen
Interview with the German artist Florian Tuercke during the exhibition “the others are we” at con[SPACE] video gallery, Atelierfrankfurt, Frankfurt/Main, Germany. For the exhibition, the artist produced a composite video portrait of faces from Frankfurt and other European cities. Exhibition curated by Michaela Filla Raquin and Raul Gschrey, interview conducted and produced by Raul Gschrey. Additional material by Florian Tuercke, Nicholas Singleton & Raul Gschrey. Historical photographic material by Francis Galton, Special Collections, University College London. www. conspace.wordpress.com : www.gschrey.org : www.floriantuercke.net
Workshop: Addressing each and every one: Popularisation/populism through the visual arts
April 21 and 22 2016, Justus Liebig University Gießen, Main Building (Ludwigstrasse 23), 3th floor, Seminar-Raum
The workshop brings together scholars from art history, film studies, theatre studies, political theory, sociology and philosophy of religion from several European countries. It discusses the ways (iconic figurations, aesthetic styles, rhetoric figures etc.) through which visual culture addresses its audience and gets involved in the constitution of a public sphere. It is in particular interested in how the visual arts – understood as both visual popular culture as well as fine arts – becomes involved in popularisation practices and populist criticism.
The workshop approaches this subject by focusing on the central iconic figure that these practices bring into play: the “everybody” (which stands for “all of us”, but is at the same time also a “nobody”, a “common man”, a “common woman” and sometimes even a “new man” or a “new woman”). It presents spotlights of a genealogy and an iconography of the everybody and discusses political and philosophical theories about how the mediating force of this iconic figuration can be understood and valuated. In doing so, the workshop pays particular attention to the ambivalent role this figure plays, especially in most recent history, in triggering both desire and enthusiasm as well as resentment and hate.
Programme below Addressing each and every one weiterlesen
panopticon remixed. A collage of architectural layouts that informed the prison revolution in nineteenth-century: Bentham’s panopticon, Millbank Prison, Pentonville Reformatory. These layouts of disciplinary institutions formed a central reference for Michel Foucault’s panopticism that is now seen as an important characteristic of contemporary surveillance society. Editing: Raul Gschrey: gschrey.org