Emoticon, 1881

This article on Rhizome inspired me to post this picture relating to a sort of a media archaeology of emoticons — before the digital, before mass communication over networks, and demonstrated as a form of  “typographical art”.  This one is from the Puck magazine, 1881.

Emoticon 1881

For a more in-depth excavation of emoticons, we should look at the various work on categorisation of emotions across humans and animals that was a key topic of research also in the 19th century. It relates to the importance of the face before the facebook.

How about the face, expression and emotion more generally? For instance Charles Darwin  was interested in the evolutionary aspects of faces and expressions, and at the centre of much interest lies a curious book by the neurologist Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne de Boulogne: The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression, or an Electro-physiological Analysis of the Expression of the Passions Applicable to the Practice of the Fine Arts (1862)

Duchenne worked at the Salpêtrière hospital which later became known for its hysteric (female) patients, and the variety of new media based experiments and empirical methods by Charcot.  In Duchenne’s work, the face, the expression was something that was the shared ground between humans and animals in these experiments.

Duchenne was  in the 1860s  using photography as a method to tap into the animal forces of the face. Photography offered him a way to capture the formal features of expressions. The patients were the models. Yet, two different time scales clashed. Photographic processes demanded a lot of time and holding the face still was difficult –Duchenne was using as his models mentally and physically ill patients. Instead of making photographic process quicker, he slowed down the body. By applying electrodes in right places of the face, the subject froze and kept the expression long enough – faces neurologyit became more than a fleeting expression, and an index for scientific purposes (indeed, Darwin was using these photographs, see Phillip Prodger’s Darwin’s Camera, Oxford University Press, 2009, 81-83).

For his own research and visualisation purposes, Darwin  used  engravings made from the photographs, where the electrodes were removed. This made the expressive faces slightly more natural, of course. An enforced typology of the face and emotion.

  1. March 14, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Those photos from Duchenne are deeply disturbing for a variety of reasons. I wonder how much could be learned from them anyway given the context. Shudder.

  2. March 14, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    Those photographs from Duchenne are disturbing for a number of reasons. What is the emoticon for shuddering in horror please?

    • March 14, 2013 at 7:25 pm

      I know, really …powerful and filled with a certain horror in them. I guess the emoticon for horror might be taken from one of those?

      • March 16, 2013 at 5:19 pm

        Yes. Just goes to illustrate the limits of what an emoticon can really convey… Sorry for the double comment!

  3. isabellisima
    March 24, 2013 at 11:11 am

    James Emmott at Birkbeck is just finalising his phd work in this area right now (in the spirit of generating connections)

    • March 27, 2013 at 7:03 am

      thanks for the tip – have to keep eyes/ears open for his work.

  1. March 16, 2013 at 12:19 am
  2. March 26, 2013 at 5:32 pm
  3. September 10, 2015 at 8:32 am
  4. April 3, 2018 at 9:59 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: