"Midway life's journey I was made aware that I..."*1 had unknowingly suffered from an anxiety disorder. This discovery radically changed the way I saw the world. I began to realise that the dark forest in which I had perceived myself was in fact a diorama of shadows thrown against the walls of my cranium. At the heart of my disorder was a psychological fault that split off and hid away my emotional experience from my visual experience of the world. I developed a natural affinity with lenses, mirrors and other instruments that abstract light from life. I began this project as a visual diary in 1997 Standing before the mirror I asked myself why I, a highly trained voyeur, could not use my refined visual skills to detect what I was feeling. I consulted a work by Charles Darwin entitled The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, a work which, like many others, owes its fundamental premise to the Swiss theologian Johann Kaspar Lavater's theory of physiognomy.
Physiognomy is an 18th century theory that proclaimed a science for reading moral character and intelligence by studying the features of the face. Naturally the face of superior intellect and morality was also a perfect portrait of Johann Kaspar Lavater. The idea that the human face could be intelligible excited scientists and philosophers alike. Such an X-ray into the human soul could also function as a biological lie detector, a barometer of emotional status or as a beacon for psychological disorder. In the nineteenth century physiognomy became the basis for sub-theories in anthropology, natural science, psychology and metaphysics.
Lavater's theory also seemed to confirm such popular beliefs as; truth is beautiful, eyes are windows to the soul, and actors are possessed by demons. Physiognomy had a formidable influence on photography as well, in fact, it is at the heart of the photographer's faith in the camera's magical ability to decipher and transcribe a world of intelligible surfaces. My research took me to the photographs of Doctor Hue Diamond reproduced in The Physiognomy of Insanity as well as work on human physiognomy by Doctor Guillaume Benjamin Duchenne de Boulogne, the man who invented electroshock therapy. In one Duchenne de Boulogne photograph, a subject is shown grimacing as a result of electric shock, in another image a patients smile is being forcefully manipulated by wires placed at the edges of his mouth.
I grew increasingly fascinated by the paradox of a passive, objective,scrutinising force which studies the fear it incites in its subjects. I saw myself, in my own private laboratory, as a perfect tiny microcosm of that rational science and of the strange loop of a mind observing itself.
*1. Dante, Inferno Canto 1.