Recently I came across a box of B&W Polaroid self-portraits I had taken in the mid 1990’s. Taping these images to the wall and peering into each portrait, I remembered with some clarity how I felt. I wrote some of these emotions on the bottom of the photographs; grief, pain, anger, joy, surprise, etc. I thought it was interesting how one can accurately remember emotions when looking at photographs of oneself, yet that reflective insight is not present when looking at portraits of others.
Now, more than 30 years later, employing the original Polaroids along with printed enlargements, I completed the piece titled I Remember How I Felt.
Interest in the correlation between facial expressions and emotions led me to Charles Darwin’s book titled, The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals first published in 1872. In this book, Darwin lists by name, what he considered to be the most important emotions. Examples included: anxiety, dejection, grief, despair, joy, love, devotion, temper, sulkiness, determination, hatred, anger, disdain, contempt, disgust, guilt, pride, helplessness, patience, surprise, astonishment and so forth. In creating his book on the subject, Darwin worked with French physician Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne. At the time, photography was in its nascency and subjects had to sit still for a period of time in order for the image to record on the photographic emulsion. As facial expressions are often fleeting, Duchenne applied an electrical current to the faces of his subjects in order to send their muscles into a state of continual contraction. By stimulating the right combination of facial muscles, Duchenne mimicked genuine emotional expression and produced more than 60 photographic plates of his subjects. After the photographs were taken the electrodes were painted out and Darwin used some of these photographs in his book.
For the Polaroid portraits I replicated the experiment by taking Darwin’s list of expressions and then holding that expression for 30 seconds as I recorded my face on black and white film (with negative) using a pinhole camera. I took about 40 photographs which formed the basis for this later work.