aspect-ratio 10x9 Cover of the publication

Cover of the publication (© Wallstein Verlag)

The penetration of connected digital media into the every day in the last two decades has given rise to an economy of images, where the central figure is the individual, identifiable face. Endless series of digitally captured faces circulate in social networks, as ever more competent algorithms allow their systematic evaluation. The situation seems fundamentally new, but it has a history reaching back to the beginnings of technical image production. In the sense of an archaeology of the present, exposing the cultural and epistemological requirements of today’s image practice, the work Operational Portraits looks at some of the decisive stages of this history. In the process, it interweaves the mostly separately treated strands in the history of portraiture. Highlights on the history of the redefinition of the modern artistic portrait, as in the Russian avant-garde or in Andy Warhol’s Factory, are embedded in a history of private portrait practices under the conditions of mass image production, from Lavater’s silhouettes to nineteenth century photo albums to Facebook, as if in a story of investigative identification from early criminology to current facial recognition. The work tries to demonstrate how the traditional claim to the portrait in a single image, the valid representation of an individual, was successively superseded by the promise of operationality already in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Images of faces have become elements of inseparable series of technical records, designed to be compared and collated in the masses. This changed status of the image had already been reflected upon and explored early on in art theory and praxis, long before it was technically implemented in the ubiquitous digital camera; the work also alludes to this fact.

Operative Porträts. Eine Bildgeschichte der Identifizierbarkeit von Lavater bis Facebook
Konstanz University Press 2019
468 pages, 85 images
ISBN 978-3-8353-9113-0

Prof. Dr. Beat Wyss (HfG Karlsruhe), Prof. Dr. Susanne Hauser (UdK Berlin)