Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Physiognomy and morris men

click photo to enlarge
The pseudo-science of physiognomy has it that we can discern a person's character and personality from their facial characteristics. The Greeks and Romans believed that the face - and other bodily features - were an external manifestation of the inner person. Physiognomy was taught in universities in the middle ages, and it has continued to have its adherents since that time, though many in the scientific community have ridiculed its methods and findings and continue to do so.

Interestingly, one recent study indicates that 90% of people think that you can judge a person's character through their face, so it's not surprising that the idea continues to be popular, and that some serious researchers are delving into the subject once more. My experience over my lifetime is that a person's face sometimes does seem to indicate something of their character, but it just as often doesn't. That observation may be saying something about me as a judge of people but I would say that physiognomy is an unreliable indicator.

I was thinking about this when I looked at my photograph of these morris men. I came upon them in Greenwich a couple of days ago as they were taking a rest from their labours and enjoying a drink. I snapped them for their traditional outfits and for their "characterful" looks. It's tempting to look into their faces and think we can read what they are like as people. But the fact is, I have other photographs taken at the same time where, because their expressions are different, we would come to quite contrasting opinions. As you have perhaps worked out, I think physiognomy is about as scientific as astrology.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 271mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/320
ISO: 320
Exposure Compensation:  -0.67 EV
Image Stabilisation: On