After reading Allan Sekula’s piece, I remembered that I had seen modern composite images frequently. With websites like Morph Thing anyone can find out What Will My Baby Look Like? as well as morph celebrities into one another. MyHeritage boasts it’s ability to match any face to a number of different celebrities. I’ve tried MyHeritage, and there’s an odd flattery in being compared physically to a celebrity you like. Even if you really look nothing like them, it’s not difficult to find the comparison pleasing. And if it’s someone you don’t like, it’s easily dismissible.
But beyond these casual “morphs,” I remembered seeing an image of a woman who was supposedly the average vision of every woman in the world. I wasn’t able to find that particular image, but I was able to find this:
These images are the work of Istanbul based photographer Mike Mike. His artist’s statement actually mentions Galton:
Mike’s journey of discovery began a few years ago, on a trip to London. “Sitting on the underground train, I was intrigued by the sheer diversity of the place – Somalis, Indians, Americans, Zimbabweans, Scandinavians and a hundred other nationalities vying for their place in the metropolis. I thought “what is this place, what is a Londoner?” A few weeks later I was in Istanbul and looking at the relative uniformity of the population I realized I was looking at the future of London. A thousand years ago Istanbul was the capital of the remnants of the Roman Empire – home to an astonishing variety of peoples from Greece, Rome, central Asia, Arabia and the Russia. Yet now this diversity had coalesced around a mean – almost everyone dark haired, brown-eyed and olive-skinned. And I thought if one could merge all the people in a place like London one would be looking at the future of that place – one would have some notion of what a Londoner is or will become.”
Taking as his reference point the early work of Francis Galton and more recent works by Gerhard Lang and Nancy Burson, which explore issues of identity through a layering, or in the case of Burson a morphing, technique, Mike has established a systematic almost census-like approach to this theme. Asking the question “What does a New Yorker, a Londoner, a Parisian look like?” he attempts to find an answer by photographing one hundred people he stops at random on the street and then combining those faces to create a new individual – someone that doesn’t exist right now but someone it seems quite real – almost familiar.
The recent fascination with morphing and overlay makes sense to me– as much as Western society values individualism, it is fascinating to compare ourselves to something grander. However, I find the mention of Galton’s work suspect because it is so closely tied to eugenics and persecutional stances on physical appearance. I also worry that because Mike’s alleged inspiration comes from the sheer diversity of Londoners, it follows that it may be impossible to maintain these regional categories with a so-called random sample as small as 100. I wonder about the racial implications of his work. It is interesting nonetheless.