Kris Kelley Studios
artist : freelance photographer


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Untitled (Mugshot Project): The history behind the project

This project is currently untitled, so I refer to it as my "mugshot" project. Here is the history behind this piece.

In an art history class "Photography's First Century" I learned of a renissance man of the late 19th century, Sir Francis Galton. Galton believed that "criminal", "poor" and "unintelligent" were characteristics that could, through breeding, be eliminated from the human race. To accomplish this, first he needed to identify the genetic characteristics that criminals, the poor and the unintelligent share and the characteristics that the rich, intelligent and non-criminals share. To do this, he developed a process to superimpose multiple portraits to create a composite image. This process called "Composite Portraiture" began by photographing members of the group of interest (for this example, mugshots of criminals). Then Galton would expose the negatives of the portraits onto a single photographic plate, to create a single composite image containing the layers of portraits. 


From the composite image, he theorized that physical commonalities such as height, size of facial features and location of facial features would emerge and a physio gnomic portrait of a criminal (or politician, or scientist, or jew). This process had further implications, beyond those of identifying ideal partners for breeding intelligence or wealth. In his criminal studies, the portrait of a criminal could also be used by law enforcement and psychologists to identify criminals and those who have the potential to become criminals. 

His theory and process align with Physiognomy, the assessment of a person's character/personality/behaviors based on physical traits, and Phrenology, measuring the size and shapes of a skull to reveal personality and mental capacity.

 Here are some interesting buzz-words (and phrases) in relation to Galton's work:

"Human variation" 

"Hereditary genius" 

"Nature vs. Nurture" 



 "Supplying able couples with incentives to have children"

"Blended image" 




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