Photos And Facial Expressions: The FaceWord Project


Photographer: Herbert Spichtinger. Picture this image alongside the word “Certain!”…/p>

The skilled photographer elicits expression from a model, captures it, then locates emotion in an image. Reading a fascinating article in The New Scientist, human expression is way more complicated than saying “Cheese!” And join our FaceWord project on Facebook

This week’s New Scientist carries a fascinating and thorough overview by Courtney Humphries of the history of facial expression and how we perceive faces, starting right back with Charles Darwin’s, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals in 1872. Darwin had French physiologist Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne, take photos of people’s faces while their facial muscles were being zapped with electricity. Creating small twitches and facial gestures, Darwin would show the photos to visitors to his house, and they would all generally agree on the ‘emotion’ being expressed in the image.

It was long held that there were a basic 6 or 7 emotions However the idea of a set of universal emotions expressed through facial expressions is being questioned by some experts including Lisa Feldman Barrett, a psychologist at Northeastern University in Boston. Context is important, Courtney Humphries summarising Barrett’s research writes, “a scowl – usually associated with anger – can be perceived as disgust if the person is holding a dirty object, or fear if it’s paired with a description of danger. The disgust face can even be seen as pride if attached to a body with arms raised in triumph. Similarly, viewing the same expression labelled alternately with the words “anger”, “surprise” and “fear” changes how people perceive it.”

Photographers and Art Directors will find this article stimulating and is a reminder of research and experiments on the relationship between word and image. We thought it might be interesting to put together a set of images that connect the picture of face and a word in unexpected ways, not an original idea but always fun and stimulating. To join in the FaceWord project post on our Facebook page

Here’s a few starters…The puppy is a bit of a cheat, but couldn’t help it. Attach a word to an image using one of our pictures, click here. Or if you’re a photographer, you might like to use one of your own. What’s interesting is that the more skilled the photographer is in using visual rhetoric (the “language of images”) like the photographers below, the more distant the connection between word and image. What do you think?


Image Source RM / Megan Maloy


Image Source RM / ABLEIMAGES


Image Source RM / Rachael McKenna


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