Race and Photography: Racial Photography as Scientific Evidence, 1876-1980

Race and Photography: Racial Photography as Scientific Evidence, 1876-1980

by Amos Morris-Reich

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ISBN-13: 9780226320915
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 01/11/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
File size: 8 MB

About the Author

Amos Morris-Reich is a professor in the Department of Jewish History and the director of the Bucerius Institute for Research of Contemporary German History and Society at the University of Haifa. He is the author of The Quest for Jewish Assimilation in Modern Social Science and the editor of collected essays by Georg Simmel and Sander Gilman.

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Race and Photography

Racial Photography as Scientific Evidence, 1876â"1980

By Amos Morris-Reich

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2016 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-32091-5


The Type and the Gaze: Racial Photography as Scientific Evidence, 1876–1918

Three genealogical threads converge in scientific racial photography of the 1920s and 1930s within the context of German society. These threads are intimately connected to transformations in the conceptualization of race from Carl Victor and Friedrich Wilhelm Dammann's Races of Men of 1876 to Hans F. K. Günther's Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes of 1922.

In the first section of this chapter, I commence with a short note on Dammann's Atlas and then reconstruct three indispensable moments in the history of anthropometric photography: Alphonse Bertillon's anthropometric photography, Francis Galton's composite photography, and Rudolf Martin's standardization of anthropometric photography. A particular emphasis will be placed on questions of scientific control and transformations in the epistemological status of photography. Within this genealogy, photography is intimately connected to statistics, a connection that finds expression in the emergence of a specific visual code as well.

In the second part of the chapter, I shift the perspective to a parallel and lesser-known genealogy that was intricately tied to the emergence of Mendelian genetics. This genealogy, developed by Carl Heinrich Stratz, Redcliffe N. Salaman, and Eugen Fischer, could be termed Mendelian photography. Focused on the study of the gaze as a specific racial characteristic, this genealogy increasingly involved the question of the visible versus the invisible in the photograph. I argue that it is crucial for understanding racial writers of the Weimar and Nazi period.

In the final part of the chapter I turn to yet a different intellectual discourse. I examine the antimechanistic notions of "seeing" elaborated in German philosophy and history of art through the discussion of two books, one by sociologist and philosopher Georg Simmel and the other by historian of art Heinrich Wölfflin.

If anthropometric genealogy lent prestige to the use of photography as a major scientific device in the study of race, the photographic study of the gaze was appropriated and further developed by Weimar and Nazi writers toward racial observation. While photography was tied to anthropological notions of race, the idea that seeing was relative to race was not simply a pseudoscientific argument concerning neurological differences between races. Rather, this concept was based on ideas that were drawn from cultural relativism and in fact constituted a reinterpretation of ideas expressed by major intellectual figures such as Simmel and Wölfflin.

Part One: Anthropometric Photography

Alphonse Bertillon, Francis Galton, and Rudolf Martin could be described as the three most important figures in the history of anthropometric photography from 1880 to 1920. Each was instrumental in establishing the use of photography as a measuring device in the study of race as well as the scientific prestige it came to enjoy within science and wider culture.

Photography was integrated into anthropological work from its very inception in the middle of the nineteenth century. Carl Victor and Friedrich Wilhelm Dammann's famous Races of Men, arguably the most influential racial photographic book of the nineteenth century, can serve as a starting point in examining the transformations in the role of photography for the study of race and their shifting epistemological underpinnings between the 1880s and 1918. The "brothers Dammann's book" (in fact they were not brothers), which appeared in England in 1876, is conceived as a photographic atlas of the different races of man. In this album-sized book, each page comprises high-quality black-and-white photographic reproductions, which appear accompanied by titles and coupled with brief textual descriptions of central physical and mental traits of the respective type that appear in small print under the photographs. As customary in contemporary botanical atlases, individual humans were presented as specimens of their type and are seen to correspond with the central traits of the type. The atlas as a whole, conceived along an evolutionary scale, moves from what they perceived as primitive types to the highly developed ones: from the Polynesian to the Germanic. Photographs merely illustrate for the general readership the gallery of types that make up the human species (fig. 1.1).

But before I turn to their cases in more detail, I cannot avoid a short note on antisemitism in this respect. Both Bertillon and Galton were involved in antisemitic campaigns and expressed antisemitic views: as an expert on identification, Bertillon took an active part in the Dreyfus affair. Galton, after completing a composite photograph of Jewish schoolboys, wrote on one occasion that he was struck by the diffidence of the Jewish gaze. Antisemitism, therefore, while not central to their discussions of photography, was culturally and ideologically associated with this scientific genealogy.

Alphonse Bertillon: Measurement and Identification

Alphonse Bertillon was not an anthropologist or an academic, but as the founder of modern anthropometric photography, his contributions to the field are essential for a historical account of the development of anthropometric photography from the final decades of the nineteenth century through the first decades of the twentieth. Bertillon developed the anthropometric method toward different goals than Galton or Martin, emphasizing the significance of practical considerations in the development of scientific photography.

Alphonse Bertillon (1853–1914) was the son of Louis Adolphe Bertillon, a physician and statistician. After being expelled from the Imperial Lycée of Versailles, Bertillon held a number of jobs in England and France before being conscripted into the French army in 1875. In 1879, after his discharge, with no real higher education, his father arranged for his employment in a low-level clerical job at the prefecture of police in Paris. Bertillon, whose duty included copying onto small cards the descriptions of criminals apprehended each day, realized that what he was laboriously rerecording was practically useless for the purpose of identifying recidivists. With a general familiarity with anthropological statistics and anthropometric techniques from his father and brother, he devised a system of identification that relied on eleven different bodily measurements and the color of the eyes, hair, and skin. This system proved so successful in identifying recidivists that it was quickly adopted by all developed countries, and Bertillon himself became the head of the Department of Judicial Identity, created for the Paris prefecture of police in 1888.

Toward the method of identification, Bertillon introduced photographic methods that revolutionized existing ones. Like Rudolf Martin later, as we will see, Bertillon was less interested in photography as a medium than in its service for criminological practices. He recognized that the main problems in identification of criminals lay not in making good photographic likenesses but in being able to classify or compare them. He was the first to develop, in 1883, a photographic archive: a card-based system that allowed easy retrieval of stored data based on strict uniformity. The card listed a range of physical characteristics, and from 1892 onward, fingerprints, to supplement exact one-seventh-scale photographs. He described his system in Photography: With an Appendix on Anthropometrical Classification and Identification (1890).

Bertillon's aims were practical and operational, the identification of individuals — a response to the demands of urban police work and the politics of fragmented class struggle during the Third Republic. While working toward different goals, the uses of photography by Bertillon, Galton, and Martin were in different ways grounded in the emergence and codification of social statistics in the 1830s and 1840s and relied heavily on the notion of the l'homme moyen. This term was coined by astronomer and statistician Adolphe Quetelet, who showed statistical regularities in rates of birth, death, and crime. Galton and Martin both connected this notion to that of a "central type," while in contrast, Bertillon did not address this issue, as his aim was practical: individual identification. Of particular importance for the use of photography by 1920s and 1930s racial writers was scientific control, the relationship between visibility and invisibility, and the relationship between photography and statistics.

Strict control was essential to Bertillon's anthropometric system. One of the major problems with earlier attempts at criminal identification concerned standardization of portraits. The precise method Bertillon invented to register offenders and classify the photographs to guarantee their retrieval is less important in our context than the fact, in the words of Allan Sekula, that Bertillon was engaged in a "two-sided taming of the contingency of the photograph." In order to compare two photographs and to carry out and compare measurements with archived photographs, Bertillon realized, control was absolutely necessary. Control, however, was not unique to photography but rather to measurement as such. Bertillon insisted on a standard focal length, even and consistent lighting, and a fixed distance between the camera and the sitter. He introduced the profile view to cancel the contingency of expression, as the contour of the head remained consistent with time.

In a recent doctoral dissertation, Josh Ellenbogen has argued that Bertillon's use of photography established an approach to identity that was "stripped of the idea of resemblance." Bertillon's photographic method did not aim at images that would resemble the photographed but in fact were based on a certain form of alienation, on training the eye to know how to interpret. Bertillon systematically differentiated between the professionally educated eye and the layman's. Bertillon's method was designed for the professionally trained eye, which "means nothing in relation to the world of quotidian appearance, is worthless to the inexpert eye." As opposed to the racial writers of the 1920s and 1930s, however, Bertillon sought to establish the kind of "seeing" that he conceived as nonintuitive or innate but conventional and learned (fig. 1.2).

For the untrained policemen, for friends or family of the prisoner, the frontal view of a face was more likely to be recognizable. From the profile photograph anyone, including the prisoner himself, will have great difficulty at identification. The trained eye was dependent on particular conventions and their minute execution precisely because they were not based on memory or perception. For the nonspecialized eye, Bertillon claimed, such photographs were meaningless. Bertillon's system wrests data from daily categories of experience (fig. 1.3).

Bertillon constructed a strictly denotative signaletic system aimed at unambiguous translation of appearance into words. Unlike Lombroso or Galton, as we will see, for Bertillon, the criminal body was not a site of meaning; it hid no characterological secrets. Scars and other deformations of the body were particularly powerful clues not to any innate propensity for crime but to the individual's history, necessary for its identification.

Bertillon's photographs were not oriented toward sense perception or conceived as its extension. If executed according to strictly followed conventions, photographs registered traces of the actual presence of the person decipherable only to the professionally trained eye. In this sense, Bertillon used imperceptible data (that the "lay eye" was unable to perceive) for the study of perceptible objects (the body of the criminal). Photography characterizes individuals under uncharacteristic conditions, for a specific form of seeing. In contrast, in the work of Günther and Clauß we encounter an alienating feature with regard to racial difference.

Before I turn to Bertillon's contemporary, Galton, I will briefly address the relationship between numbers and visual code in Bertillon's method. What is the relationship between photographs and statistical tables? Are they mutually exclusive, separate, or mutually convertible? Which is analytically superior? Bertillon developed a system in which photographs were intended to be fully convertible to numbers; photography, indeed, was a form of measurement. In fact, as no single measurement was sufficient for identification, the method depended on the principle of probability. In this respect, statistical tables were superior to the visualization photography offers. The relationship is mutual but asymmetric: scientific photographs can be expressed statistically, but not vice versa. Martin and Pöch, as we will see, give this asymmetrical relationship a visual expression.

Francis Galton: Photography as "Pictorial Statistics"

Francis Galton developed a method of "composite photography" that was not aimed at identification but at the presentation of "types." Galton believed that physical features reflected specific inherited behavioral and racial traits. Composite photographs provided, in his view, a means of identifying and presenting the type's characteristics. His photographic method, closely related to a specific notion of "type," cannot be understood without statistical principles and a specific interpretation of the "law of error."

Galton developed his photographic method in the final quarter of the nineteenth century in the context of the proliferation of new applications of photography enabled by the introduction of cheaper and easier methods of production. Similarly to Bertillon, his use of photography was consistent with certain empiricist assumptions and methodological procedures of naturalism: the existence of pure facts beyond or before their identification, representation as an immediate function of reality, and observation as uncontaminated by subjectivism.

Sociologically, Galton clearly belongs to the reactionary paradigm. His purist eugenic outlook was future oriented, based on an image of an uncontaminated distant past and haunted by a sense of the present as declining and in a state of exhaustion. Deeply influenced by his relative Darwin's discovery of evolution, Galton's hope for an improved future was checked by his early discovery that successive generations tended to regress back toward the mean. At the same time, Galton believed human "types" were rapidly disappearing.

Galton's photographic method cannot be dissociated from his statistical contributions. Notions of probability, as Bulmer shows, occupied a central place in Galton's thought. Normal distribution, known also as "the law of error" or "Gaussian distribution," was formulated already in 1810 by Laplace, at first to explain why errors of measurement, particularly in astronomy, were approximately normal. This theorem was applied by Quetelet to human sciences, as previously noted, through the concept of the "average man." Quetelet's principle was that if the height of a building is measured twenty times, the value on each occasion may differ because of errors of measurement, but the building has a determinate height, and "the true mean" of the values of the different measurements is the best estimate of the building's true height. Quetelet observed that it was not always obvious whether a mean was a "true mean" that measured a real value or whether this was only an "arithmetic mean" with only descriptive significance. To decide between the two, he proposed normal distribution as the criterion. In an influential review essay published in 1850, John Herschel codified a methodological distinction of immediate consequence for Galton. Herschel, fully convinced of Quetelet's application of the error law to real variation in nature, distinguished between two kinds of mean values: a true mean, which he termed mean, and a mere arithmetic mean, which he termed average. The scientific value of true means was in their representation of a type, and the deviations from these means were distributed in the characteristic form assumed by error. In his essay, Herschel made the following often-cited statement: "An average gives us no assurance that the future will be like the past. A mean may be reckoned on with the most implicit confidence. All the philosophical value of statistical results depends on a due appreciation of this distinction, and acceptance of its consequences."


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Table of Contents

Contents Acknowledgments Note about Scanning and Reproduction of Photographs Introduction 1. The Type and the Gaze: Racial Photography as Scientific Evidence, 1876–1918 2. Racial Photographs from Icons to Schemes: The “Case” of Central and Eastern European Jews, 1880–1927 3. Serialization as Construction of Meaning: The Photographic Practice of Hans F. K. Günther in Context 4. Racial Photographs as “Thought Experiments”: The Photographic Method of Ludwig Ferdinand Clauß 5. Racial Photography in Palestine Notes Index

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