Duchenne de Boulogne and Adrien Tournachon (French, 1806-1875 & 1825-1903)
Portrait of the old man in profile, 1862, negative, circa 1856
Albumen print from a glass negative
22.1 x 16.5 cm oval on 22.8 x 17.5 cm paper, mounted on 41.0 x 27.3 cm paper
A pioneering neurologist and physiologist, Duchenne de Boulogne was the first scientist to explain that facial expressions were connected to human emotions. He demonstrated this by using electrical probes to trigger discrete muscle contractions and recording these in photographs by Adrien Tournachon. Duchenne believed the human face was a kind of map, the features of which could be codified into universal taxonomies of mental states and was convinced that it was through a reading of facial expressions alone which could reveal an accurate rendering of the soul's emotions. These notions Duchenne sought conclusively and scientifically to chart by his experiments and photography. Duchenne was certain that the "truth" of his experiments could only be effectively rendered by photography, the subject's expressions being too fleeting to be drawn or painted. "Only photography," Duchenne wrote, "as truthful as a mirror, could attain such desirable perfection." He worked with the talented young photographer Adrien Tournachon, the brother of Felix Nadar, in order to document his experiments. Their results are illustrated in Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine, the first publication on the expression of human emotions to be illustrated with photographs, a milestone at the intersection of art and science.
Duchenne's primary subject was this old, thin-faced and toothless man whose features lent themselves to the sometimes dramatic, even disturbing, expressions documented in Tournachon's photographs.