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Beginning 1877, Francis Galton worked with the process of composite photography to verify and illustrate his study of heredity. This involved exposing an arbitrary number of individual portraits of chosen groups of people on a photographic plate, with the respective exposure time for each image made in relation to the number of used portraits. The overlapping caused the subjects’ individual physiognomic qualities to vanish and accentuated common characteristics of the chosen group. The composite process resulted in producing a slightly blurred image, which, as Galton wrote, «portrayed no specific type of person, but rather an imaginary figure endowed with the average characteristics of a specific group of people. [...] [This] represents the portrait of a type and not of an individual.» Galton’s process was founded on the physiognomic idea that a person’s character and potential could be established through appearance alone. The example shown here – the synthesis of the ‹epitomic Jew,› and the intensification of an archive to a single image – demonstrates the most dangerous effects that combining eugenics with composite photography produces.
Nancy Burson generates ‹mixed portraits› on the computer (similar to Big Brother). These refer as much to Galton’s process as Thomas Ruff’s «Andere Porträts» (Other Portraits), where he worked with the composite photography camera used by the police. Without reflections on their problematic ideological background, composite images repeatedly occur in the area of popular science as well, for example when illustrating a generally-accepted ideal of beauty.