Research Journal Task One

Physical Likeness and Characterisation

Physical likeness and characterisation are two things that make up a portrait and are explored by photographers in different ways. One photographer who developed the notion of physical likeness is Francis Galton. Galton was an English born statistician, sociologist and psychologist, he is most famous for his categorization of criminals based on their appearance using composite portraiture. According to The Metropolitan Museum Of Art, “Galton devised the technique of composite portraiture as a tool for visualising different human types”, “He applied the method to portraits of convicts to determine in specific facial features could be associated with distinct types of criminality.” Galton examined these portraits of convicts and generalized anyone who had the same facial features, he would merge individual images of convicts together to create one portrait, the result of this showed what all criminals would look like. The generalization of people’s personalities based on their physical attributes is something that now seems ridiculous, but in the late 1800’s Galton went on to use his technique on other segments of society. He used the same technique to determine the kinds of health issues people may have, he took an interest in the “socially inferior”, the mentally ill, tuberculosis patients, and Jews. These images showed how the physical likeness between different people can determine certain personality traits, health issues and religions, a kind of scientific stereotyping.

Cecil Beaton on the other hand had a very different way of photographing people. In the mid 20th century Beaton was renowned for his celebrity portraiture, more specially, his Royal portraits. He was described as “central to the way the monarchs shared their public image”. Throughout Beaton’s portraits of the royal family there is a clear sense of the regal background they come from. The subject is always posed with elegance and grace, and the extravagant gowns and outfits fit the well known character of being a princess. Beaton has a way of capturing the royals that expresses their character whilst remaining professional. He first photographed Queen Elizabeth II in 1942 when she was just a young princess, and from then on, over the next 3 decades he was repeatedly invited back to photograph her majesty at different occasion; including her coronation. Props and Pose are two things that show the character of both the subject and the photographer in an image. In his photographs of royalty the subject is often depicted in the stereotypical royal way, however, what makes Beatons work so special is that he captures a new side of this well known family. In his series, New Generation, we see the family celebrating a new birth and the development of Prince Charles. These photographs capture the family in the same way that any other family would have a portrait, defying the rules of the royal portrait. He breaks the tradition created by painters over the years and shows a side of compassion and empathy. Through his work he truly expresses the royal family as people rather than a figure of wealth.

Composite portraits showing “features common among men convicted of crimes of violence,” by Francis Galton 1885
“Illustrations of Composite Portraiture, The Jewish Type,” by Francis Galton 1885



H. M. Queen Elizabeth II, photographed by Cecil Beaton in celebration of her 43rd birthday on 21st April 1969.



Queen Elizabeth II with Prince Andrew by Cecil Beaton 1960



Cecil Beaton – Princess Elizabeth and Prince Charles, Clarence House, September 1950


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