Archiv der Kategorie: research

Gay Composite Portraits?

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.

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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.”[1]

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.[2] Some are thinking the approach further and warn of algorithms that could detect psychological disposition and political inclination in the face,[3] while other journalists focus on the criticism from LGBT groups.[4]

the others are we : interview

“the others are we” : video composite portrait of a city

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

panopticon remixed

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

Galton Papers: A Researcher’s Nightmare

Research visit to the „Galton Papers“, University College London, Special Collections, April, 2015.

The „Special Collections“ of University College London are housed in the central library of the University. Only library card holders can enter, so a member of staff picks me up at the high-security entrance gate. After a hike through corridors, I am let to a room where on a library cart a huge pile of boxes and folders waits for me. This is quite a lot of stuff, and I have only ordered the material that seemed to be essential. Galton was an avid collector and everything seemed to be of interest: from letters to photographs, notebooks and articles, envelopes and scraps of paper. This is as much a heaven as a nightmare for a researcher like me. Here I will spend the next days, sifting through the material. The collection is well arranged and a considerable part of the material on and by Francis Galton was digitised recently. But especially with photographs and notes, it is important to consult the originals. To order and categorise the photographs, for instance, Galton used a form of binding. These small booklets that resemble flip books and that could be described as preliminary stages in the production of composite portraits. Often there are notes on the back of the prints, for instance, the remark: “This man’s nose spoils the composite.” Also the notebooks and letter books can be accessed as originals.

The material kept in the collection leads to further London museums and archives where information on Galton’s photographic practice is kept, such as the Metropolitan Archive, the Bethlem Museum and Archive, the Huxley Collection at Imperial College and the National Archives.

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Museum of the Mind

Research visit to the “Bethlem Museum of the Mind” & Bethlem Hospital Archive London, April, 2015.

A suburban train takes me to “Eden Park”, not only by name an idyllic village in the south-eastern periphery of London. In the back streets the cherry trees are in full bloom. I cross a creek and walk along the fence of an open space that resembles a huge park until I reach the entrance of Bethlem Royal Hospital. The “Bethlem Museum of the Mind” and its archive are located on the grounds of the psychiatric hospital that is still in operation, after a long history that dates back into the twelfth century. The representative central building of this complex that was inaugurated in 1930 has just recently been opened as the new museum. Here archivist and curator Colin Gale awaits me behind the reception desk. We have a chat about the institution and the museum, especially in late nineteenth century when Francis Galton visited the clinic and commissioned portraits of patients for his photographic experiments with the composite technique.

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The portraits of 76 male and 65 female patients are preserved among the “Galton Papers” at the Special Collections of University College London. The frontal, half-length portraits carry a number as well as family names. The archive at Bethlem holds the admission and discharge books as well as the medical files. By comparing the periods of treatment of different patients, who were often also photographed as part of the asylum’s procedure, the photos in the “Galton Papers” can be dated to 1880-1882. Also, not only names, but information on age, profession, family history, as well as the diagnosis notes on the treatment of the mental illness can be drawn from the material. The entries tell veritable stories of the life and fate of the individuals that were used as source material for Galton’s experiments with the composite technique. And while composite portraiture was aimed at de-individualising and typifying, these documents give back an identity and personality to the objects of study. Furthermore the photographs and the material kept at Bethlem Hospital, provide insight into the disciplinary institutions and their policies, modes of categorisation and typification of their clients, often by visual means. Museum of the Mind weiterlesen

Recording Race: Huxley

Recording Race: T. H. Huxley’s Photographic Survey of the Races of the British Empire. Research visit to the „Thomas Henry Huxley Papers“, Imperial College London, April 2015.

It is certainly not easy to get an appointment at the archives of Imperial College London, where theThomas Henry Huxley Papers” are kept. This is the only archive I have encountered so far that would make a letter of intent, a project description, as well as a letter from my supervisor and university a prerequisite for consulting the materials. However, after settling all those issues, I am received cordially and a seat and research aids have been prepared for me.

Thomas Henry Huxley was a traveler, biologist and educational reformer, he is however best known as an important advocate of Darwin’s theory of evolution. He shared a circle of friends with Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer and Francis Galton, with whom he exchanged letters that are kept in the archive. For instance in a letter dated October 16th, 1886, Francis Galton asks Huxley’s opinion on the biographies of Erasmus Darwin and Charles Darwin in relation to a proposal for a monument.

Races of the Empire

I am, however, particularly interested in his project of a visual survey of the ‘races’ of the British Empire, that was launched in 1869,  and for which Huxley developed a anthropometrical photographic standard for the depiction the human body. The plan originated in the Ethnological Society of which Huxley was president, and which sought to improve the quality of data in the field and establish a scientific classification of the ‘races’ of the British Empire.  The project however was administered by the Colonial Office in London that sent out an official request to the colonial administrations and forwarded the material, photographs and letters, to Huxley. Even though the material that he received was never used in his publications or in the work of the Ethnological Society, the portraits represent an important, if problematic, insight into the practices of scientific photographic depiction of the human body and in particular of colonial subjects. Recording Race: Huxley weiterlesen

Hanwell Asylum Records

Research Trip: Hanwell Asylum Records, Metropolitan Archives London, April 2015

It is more of a coincidence when I end up at the gates of the Metropolitan Archives for the first time. I have been visiting the Imperial War Museum, or rather the building that now houses this institution. This was the former site of Bethlem Asylum, when the clinic was still located in central London in nineteenth century. Only the monumental entrance and central wing are still existent. When I walk back to a friend’s place, a new bright green suit in my shopping bag, I suddenly realize a small sign indicating the entrance of the Metropolitan Archives. A member of staff tells me that they will not be open for much longer today, but that there will be an exceptional opening on the coming Saturday. That’s when I return to study the material on Hanwell Asylum, the other psychiatric hospital where Francis Galton had photographs taken for his experiments on composite portraiture. Also material on Guy’s Hospital is available here. In this institution, with the aid of the physicist F. A. Mahomet, photographs were taken of tuberculosis patients to compose facial superimpositions.

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In the UCL “Galton Papers” I have compiled a list of names of Hanwell Asylum inmates whose portraits were taken on Galton’s request. In the entry and discharge books as well as in the patient records that are kept here, I am able to trace a number of the persons. Dating the photographs is however not as easy as in the case of Bethlem. As a county asylum Hanwell was dealing with a larger number of long-term patients. And, unlike at Bethlem, patients were not photographed as part of the asylum’s internal procedure, or at least no portraits and no nineteenth century photographs of the institution have survived as part of the case books in the Metropolitan Archives. This makes identification and dating of the photographs that became part of Galton’s collection of portraits of psychiatric patients from Hanwell difficult. However, in a number of cases, I was able to establish identities of individuals and could date the production of the photographs to 1880-81.

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Hanwell, or as it was officially called “Middlesex County Asylum” was the first pauper asylum in Middlesex, it was opened in 1831 and successively enlarged in 1837, 1857 and 1879. In 1888 it had 1891 patients. It was one of the first institutions in Britain that followed a non-restraint system, but in a contemporary report it was criticized for its low number of attendants and medical staff and the intransparent medical and administrative decisions.[1] As a state-financed institution, the number of patients was higher and the average time they spent at the Asylum was longer, compared to the privately-run Bethlem that catered for the middle classes. The patients were mainly workers from the lower classes; among the patients that I could trace in Galton’s portrait series the case files identify as: laborers, weavers, carpenters, bricklayers, butchers, shop assistants, clerks. Just like in the Bethlem files, the medical case books contain personal information, such as occupation and marriage status, individual and family medical history, diagnoses and notes on the development of the disease, as well as prescriptions. Also in these files the hereditary focus is strong and they often contain a mental family history.

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[1] See: Winslow, Forbes: „On the Management of Hanwell Lunatic Asylum“. In: The Journal of Psychological Medicine and Pathology 2, 1849, 418.

Bertillon Exhibited

Research trip to the „Musée de la Préfecture de Police“ in Paris/France, January 2015

The museum of the police prefecture of Paris is located in the centre of town. It is only a five minute walk from the “Ile de la Cité”, the central court of Paris and the historical Prefecture where in nineteenth century Alphonse Bertillon resided in the upper stories as the head of the department of judiciary identification. The museum is however not housed equally grandiose, but in the third storey of a post-war concrete building. Already in the forecourt a sombre looking police officer blocks my way, the secret parole “museum” changes his expression and he leads me through a door. Here again, in a dark waiting room, ripe with the smell of the self-service coffee machine, faded posters of police announcements and wanted posters, I am lost.  Another obstacle, this time a desk manned by a team of officers, has to be overcome before I am granted access to the elevator.

Right opposite  of the entrance door to the museum there’s a section on the “Scientific Police”, mainly on Bertillon’s work. An accumulation of framed photographs and texts as well as objects introduces the development of identification and scientific police work. Among these are reproductions of historical photographs, of the process of taking anthropometric measurements, the archive of the Bertillonage records, tables for the portrait parlé, as well as crime scene photographs and reproductions of fingerprints. A huge enlarger takes up much of the space, but leaves room for a staged photo shooting – wooden posing chair and historical camera. Two puppets are representing a seated suspect under the gaze of a photographer whose face is clearly modelled on Bertillon – here he is the “Father of Scientific Detection” standing right in front of me, but slightly stiff. Another puppet operates a small wooden ordering cabinet for the Bertillonage identification cards, as it was used in the introductory phase of the new technique of biometric identification. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the records filled endless rows of shelves in the former police archive and a team of clerks were employed to order and retrieve the identification cards. Some of the cards and judiciary photographs are now kept in the archive of the Police Prefecture that I could visit on my last trip to Paris. In a corner a suitcase of instruments for taking the eleven anthropometric measurements of the Bertillonage rests in a vitrine.

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When I arrive at the museum for a second time and ask for an appointment with a curator, the staff leads me into a small office. Even though my earlier message apparently didn’t reach her the woman greets me enthusiastically, as if she’d expected me. The room is overflowing with papers, boxes, objects – like tidal waves this ocean crashes onto her table. Bertillon Exhibited weiterlesen