Who is this Man, and Why is He Sticking Wires in People's Heads?
by Oren Grad
It's Guillaume Benjamin Amand Duchenne de Boulogne, renowned 19th-century French neurologist, physiologist and photographer.
In 1852, Duchenne began to photograph his experiments in the electrical stimulation of facial muscles, leading to the publication in 1862 of le Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine ou analyse électro-physiologique de l'expression des passions (cited in English, and recently republished, as The Mechanism of Human Facial Expressions). As explained in a nice review essasy by photographic historian Marta Braun, Duchenne's striking photographs posed quite a conundrum:
Rather than signs of inner emotions, of consciousness, of what, in fact, separated man from animal, Duchenne's photographs recorded fear, joy, disdain, or terror as mere physiological facts that could be provoked by electricity and measured by the camera.The point was not lost on Charles Darwin, who drew heavily on Duchenne's work in his 1872 treatise The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (browse it online here).
Today, the plates from Mechanism are highly valued as landmarks of photographic history and art. Selected images are widely available in inkjet reproduction for those who appreciate their faintly ghoulish charm.
Posted by: OREN GRAD