Portraits of Automated Facial Recognition: On Machinic Ways of Seeing the Face

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


This book offers a unique analysis of the use of the automated facial recognition algorithms that are increasingly intervening in our society from a critical visual culture studies perspective. The discussion focuses on the visuality of automated facial recognition and its designed algorithms as a case study in machinic vision and its concurrent modes of perception. It focuses on a general problematic of facial recognition technology, in asking how recognition can be defined through a technical process.

This analysis draws on two primary genres of image sources: firstly, technical images that result from an algorithmic process of facial recognition and secondly, artistic images of contemporary artists who intervene with facial recognition technology. The first part of this study historicizes an early facial recognition algorithm called “eigenface” by relating its processes of recognition with a practice of composite portraiture, invented by Francis Galton in the 1880s as part of his larger project of eugenics. Both the technical processes of eigenface and Galton’s composite portraiture practice reference a merging of statistical logic with vision, as a means of recognition. As a counter aesthetic approach, the discussion moves to an alternate reading of the composite portrait by Ludwig Wittgenstein in the context of his philosophical investigations. The second part addresses contemporary artistic engagements with facial recognition technology that articulate the contemporary cultural and political implications of the technology. Notions of representation, identity and algorithmic meaning production in relation to facial recognition is explored through the work of Thomas Ruff, Zach Blas and Trevor Paglen.

This investigation is interdisciplinary and draws on a wide range of discourse including the fields of computer science, sociology, philosophy, media studies and contemporary art. This book argues that we must take a closer look at how the enactment of recognition occurs through automated facial recognition technology and that it is indeed embedded with a visual politics. Even more significantly, this technology, the book argues, is redefining what it means to see and be seen in the contemporary world.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Art History
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
Award date2019 Nov 22
Place of PublicationBielefeld
  • Transcript
Print ISBNs978-3-8376-4846-1
Electronic ISBNs978-3-8394-4846-5
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Oct 24
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 2019-11-22 Time: 13:00 Place: LUX B121 External reviewer Name: Joanna Zylinska Title: professor Affiliation: Goldsmiths, University of London ---

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