Research conducted by LJMU’s Face Lab has revealed the average faces of British and Tasmanian convicts from the 19th century.
The ‘average’ or composite male and female faces of criminals have been generated using the latest technology which generates a single image from several photos of offenders, found on records created by the British who were managing the convict population in Tasmania during that time.
The average faces of the convicts form part of an exhibition organised by Face Lab, University of Liverpool, University of Tasmania and National Trust Tasmania. It is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and is taking place in the Penitentiary Chapel in Hobart, Tasmania, where some of the convicts represented in the images were once imprisoned.
The idea behind creating the average faces came from a concept in the 19th century, which has long been disproved, that criminal behaviour could be predicted by studying facial features. Once such researcher in the 19th century was Cesare Lombroso who theorised that some people in society had not evolved to the same level as others, and that ‘criminal types’ would have physical characteristics that allowed them to be identified. He examined prisoners in Italian and Russian prisons, measuring the angle of the forehead, size of ears, nose, length of arms and the proximity of the eyes. Despite Lombroso’s theories being widely disproved, the idea of a ‘criminal type’ has persisted into the twenty-first century but research studies show the facial characteristics of convicts do not differ from the general population.
Director of Face Lab, Professor Caroline Wilkinson, commented: “This social history exhibition utilises 19th century techniques to draw links between the discredited theories of convict atavism and the persistence of such beliefs in contemporary society.”
The launch of the exhibition generated coverage across the Australian media, including on ABC Radio.