Portraits as surveillance instruments: from anthropometry to biometric faces


  • Marina Gutierrez de Angelis


As a cultural creation, the face has a long history. Our relationship with the face is through  its  images:  Mirrors,  reflections,  photographs,  visions.  The  experience about the face deserves a genealogy, a careful attention  because it is the product of a  cultural  construction  that  establishes the  social status  granted  to the  person. Different mediums of the image persisted in making  faces visible or recognizable. The anthropometry of the 19th century established a new relationship between the face and  the  Self. Photography  allowed  us to explore, measure  and  classify the images of the face and of the human being. This explains the fascination with photography   in   Bertillon   and   Darwin.   At   the   same   time,   the   arrival   of photography also opened the  way to the era of the democratization of the face. But the images of faces that  we will approach in this article are images produced by techniques  of reconstruction  and  facial  recognition  based  on  biometric  and genetic data. Biometrics seeks to recognize individuals  through physical and behavioral traits, articulating  an image technique  with mathematical techniques. Even portraits have become instruments for surveillance. This responds to the conditioning  of  an  apparatus   that   captures   and   determines   behaviors   and discourses.  As   Giorgio  Agamben    argues,   certain   apparatus   have   imposed themselves as spatial optical articulations,  but also epistemic, political and ideological, capable of assuming a specific conception of the vision and position of the subject in front of the world. We define the face as an apparatus. If the history of the portrait pictures theory, as proposed by W. f. T. Mitchell, in relation to the history of the development  of the process of individuation of the self, genetic biometrics  dissolves it completely, since it is not a measure of the human but  its negation.

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Gutierrez de Angelis, M. (2019). Portraits as surveillance instruments: from anthropometry to biometric faces. Revelar: Revista De Estudos Da Fotografia E Imagem, 3. Obtido de https://ojs.letras.up.pt/index.php/RL/article/view/5304