Vol. 2 No. 1 (2017): Grimace

One of the most privileged and complex motives in the history of photography is the human face. Not only that – it has always been a heavily contested landscape, deeply invested in the aesthetic and ideological struggles concerning the nature of human beings, social class as well as its proper representation through the medium of photography. Photographs of the face, sometimes even understood as the “windows to the soul”, capture and freeze the otherwise fleeting extremes of facial expressions – the grimaces – the contortions, convulsions of the faces as the material tokens of joy, fear, and pain. By doing that, photography sets free “the optical unconsciousness” of the human face. Framing the grimaced face in the pictorial plane, photography at the same time frees it from its direct relation to the present and subjugates it through its photographic and ideological conventions (scientific and aesthetic apparatuses). The photographs of (grimaced) faces are nowadays ubiquitous and yet at the same time still bear the power of the uncanny, as if the incessant reproduction has never fully depleted its meaning nor blunted its unsettling – either ecstatic or thrilling – force.