Francis Galton and Composite Portraiture


Galton devoted many years of study to the use of "Composite Portraiture", in which photographs of different subjects were combined, through repeated limited exposure, to produce a single blended image.  Galton perfected the technical details of the method by repeated trial-and-error over many years, using apparatus of his own design.  He was especially interested in the use of these composites to test if there was a recognizable criminal type revealed by them, but his experiments in this direction proved that, within the range of data available to him, no such type revealed itself.  The portraits of criminals tended to blend away into normality.

Galton tried using Composite Portraits in many other applications, including identification of the chronically sick by the appearance of a "sick type". The results were, again, ambiguous at best.  He was not entirely wrong about the link between physical appearance and psychological traits, however, as modern studies have shown that, for very large samples, there is indeed a weak but significant link between physical peculiarities and traits like criminality.

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Facsimile 1879 "Composite Portraits" Journal of the Anthropological Institute 8 : 132-144
Facsimile 1879 'Composite portraits made by combining those of many different persons into a single figure.' Journal of the Anthropological Institute 8 : 132--48
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Facsimile 1879 Combined Portraits, and the Combination of Sense Impressions Generally. Proceedings of the Birmingham Philosophical Society 2 : 26-29
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Facsimile 1882 "The Physiognomy of Consumption" Nature 26 (February 3) : 389
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Facsimile 1886 'Exhibition of composite photographs of skulls by Francis Galton' Journal of the Anthropological Institute 15 : 390-1
Facsimile 1886 Note on Jacobs - Jewish Composite Portraits. Journal of the Anthropological Institute 15 : 62
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Facsimile 1888 'Composite portraiture. A communication from Francis Galton.' Photographic News 32 : 257
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Facsimile 1898 'Photographic records of pedigree stock.' [Letter] Live Stock Journal (September 30)
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Facsimile 1906 'Request for prints of photographic portraits.' [Letter] Nature 73 : 534