Saturday, May 31, 2014

Making (Un)Natural Faces

Human Emotions

A Young Bearded Man: West Riding Lunatic Asylum, London; 1869
Source: Wellcome Library, London

In an article from The Public Domain Review, Stassa Edwards "explores Charles Darwin’s photography collection, which includes almost forty portraits of mental patients given to him by the neurologist James Crichton-Browne. The study of these photographs, and the related correspondence between the two men, would prove instrumental in the development of The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), Darwin’s book on the evolution of emotions."

Edwards writes:
The mentally ill, as Victorian mores held, were emotionally uninhibited and unconstrained. Unable to conform to social norms, the insane were hardly concerned with the suppression of emotion required by the cultured and the sane. To Darwin, Crichton-Browne’s photographs represented something more useful than marketable trinkets. The raw emotion of the inmates at West Riding Lunatic Asylum was primitive, more authentic, and certainly closer to man’s evolutionary ancestors. Crichton-Browne’s project, his interest in capturing the true look of mania, proved a valuable discovery for Darwin.
The connection between controlled facial expressions and sanity and between uninhibited raw emotion and insanity continues to fascinate; this is especially notable when one looks at the staged photos of powerful and power-seeking business and political leaders. There is an unnaturalness in all this conformity, as if blandness has become a de-facto standard. But can this really be? One must conclude that the sameness in facial expressions reveals a lot more unsavory and unhealthy thoughts and emotions than these men and women wish to reveal.

You can read more of the article and see more images at [PubDomRev]

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