Physiognomy is a project that explores the “meaning” of the features of the
human face. The basic premise of physiognomy is that the features of the human face are outward indicators of unseen traits of personality and character. According to this “science,” the topography of the human face encodes meaning.

I had been examining cosmetic surgery and noting that outward changes in appearance don’t fundamentally change personality, at least as it is assessed by such authorities as the Myers-Briggs personality indicator. But according to the precepts of physiognomy, new features would result in new personality traits. I began playing with the physiognomatic connection between external appearance and inner reality through a series of paired make overs.

I first developed palettes of features correlated to personality traits. There was a palette of eyes, a palette of noses, a palette of mouths, and every example represented in the palettes was linked to a specific trait. The wide-set eyes represented a “big picture” approach to the world and an impatience with details, for example; the tip-tilted nose represented a flirtatiousness and an inability to manage money. The first makeover was a features makeover. A volunteer subject was photographed and invited to select new facial features for himself from the palettes; his selections were then incorporated into his photograph using Photoshop. He was not aware at the time he chose his features that they were correlated to specific personality traits. When presented with his new face, he was presented with the new personality accompanying his selected features.

The second makeover was a personality makeover. I developed a questionnaire that invited the same subject to design his ideal personality by choosing character traits for himself. Unbeknownst to him, the trait choices were correlated to specific facial features. So in choosing the components of a new personality, the subject was simultaneously choosing new facial features. I incorporated these into the subject’s photograph, again using Photoshop, and presented the subject with the face of his new personality.

Physiognomy (key) 

Nose palette 

Mouth palette 

from the palettes
Features selected: from the palettes

(from the palettes)
Subject with selected features: (from the palettes)

and corresponding traits revealed
Subject with incorporated features: and corresponding traits revealed

Ideal Personality questionnaire 

personality traits
Subject with her selected: personality traits

to selected personality traits
Subject with features corresponding: to selected personality traits