This post was written by Danny Rees, Assistant Engagement Officer at the Wellcome Library. It is part of a series of images on the theme of Hope and Fear in library and archive collections to coincide with the Being Human festival.
Is this the face of a terrified man? Look closely and you will see that that there are several devices being applied to different parts of his head and neck. What we may perceive as a genuine expression of fear is actually an artificial stimulation of muscle contraction, using electrodes.
This is from the Wellcome Library’s ‘Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine’ by Dr. G. B. Duchenne published in 1862, making it one of the earliest examples of scientific research to use photography. Duchenne employed electricity in his pioneering work into the roles of individual muscles and their combinations in producing emotional expressions.
Charles Darwin asked permission to reproduce some of the key images in his ‘The expression of the emotions in man and animals’ (1872) so it is likely that more people became familiar with Duchenne’s work via another person’s publication. The Wellcome library contains a significant amount and variety of material for those interested in what being human, fearful or otherwise, means.