Francis Galton and Composite Types

The English scientist Francis Galton, a close relative of Charles Darwin, is most know today as one of the founders of Eugenics (the science of "breeding" better humans through selective reproduction), and as the inventor of fingerprints. These photographs are part of a series of experiments in racial identity and character. Galton would take photographs of a dozen or so people, all of them, say, Italian, then using multiple exposures combine them into the "ideal type of the Italian." He called these "composite photographs."

This first is a "composite photo" of, on the left, 12 English officers in the Royal Engineers, and next to them on the right, 12 privates. Galton took photos of twelve men from each rank, then superimposed them on each other to sort of "morph" a perfect type. Then, he claimed, commanding officers could measure a man's leadership ability by how close he came to the "type" on the left.

Above is a composite of, on the left, 9 men; on the right, 5 men, and in the center, left and right combined. These men were all criminals. Galton assumed he had discovered "the face of crime." If a man resembled this picture, you could assume he was a criminal, or at least a "criminal type."

This is a composite photo of twelve Boston physicians, from McClure's Magazine, September 1894. Why produce such an image? Maybe you could use it to find out what the ideal type of a doctor should look like. Then maybe you could judge how good your doctor was by how much he looked like the ideal type of a doctor. Or, you could use it to weed people out of medical school--admit one person who looks like the ideal type, and deny another who looks different. Maybe the result would be a society where only people who "really were" doctors could be doctors. Or maybe it would result in a society where you could only be a doctor if you looked something like the imaginary gentleman in the middle.

This composite photo of the "pianistic face" appeared in Harper's Weekly, 5/16/1908 Weekly, 5/16/1908

This 5/21/1904 Harper's Weekly article on William Randolph Hearst, the publisher, mentions composite photographs—click on the thumbnail for a readable version

This brief article appeared Manufacturer and Builder on 2/2/1883. Click for a readable image You can also try searching the web for "composite photographs, Galton" or "Composite Portraits, Galton." A more modern application of the same idea appears below: "Betty Crocker." The first picture of "Betty Crocker" was created in 1936, by an artist who blended the features of women who worked in management at General Mills. She's been redesigned 9 times since, to more closely reflect the ideal consumer of the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s.

General Mills used at least seventy five different faces to come up with this computer generated "ideal type," the current face of "Betty Crocker."

This face is supposed to both represent and appeal to the widest possible spectrum of American women likely to buy products with the Betty Crocker brand. As the doctor above is the "ideal" doctor, so she is the ideal American housewife of the 1990s.