The Recognition Machine

The Recognition Machine presents itself as a photo booth, but with a difference: your photograph will be linked to a portrait with a troubled status that raises questions important to address today.

Start by taking your picture in the online photobooth.

Or visit the archive of portraits.

The portraits have been made by Antje Van Wichelen based on archival 19th century anthropometric photographs. The original images were part of a project by European photographers to define "races" of people and to establish a hierarchy that placed themselves at the top of "other" inferior cultures. This project was based on pseudo-scientific ideas of race and used the photographs as evidence to support ideas that are no longer accepted, yet which carry a legacy.

The photographs have been transformed by Antje Van Wichelen via analogue ’procedures’ that include chemical processing of 16mm film and printing techniques.

Here, taking your picture with a digital camera invokes a process of active interrogation as contemporary algorithms attempt to establish links between the pixels just recorded and those of images from a database of 19th century anthropometric photographs – The resulting print output links contemporary regimes of surveillance to those of a colonial past. You may keep the print, but it comes with an assignment (or invitation) to undertake a search. This search will lead you towards a photograph that may depict one or several people who at a certain moment, in certain circumstances, have been photographed – and towards the archive it sits in. It is possible that your discoveries come with a certain shock, a dégout, or a mal-à-l’aise, since the original images have been taken in the unequal, violent, circumstances of colonialism. The assignment ends when you report about your search, both historically (with contextual elements you found) and personally/emotionally. Directions or clues of where to begin are given to you by the machine, together with the printed image.

Artists: Antje Van Wichelen, SICV
Production: nadine, Workspace Brussels,
assistance: Brenda Bikoko, Milena Desse
with the support of Constant vzw, LaboBXL, VGC, schepen van Nederlandstalige Aangelegenheden Maite Morren and Gemeente Elsene.
Using the archives of Wereldculturen (NL), Tropisch Instituut (B), Pitt Rivers Museum (GB), Quai Branly (Fr), Rautenstrauch Joest Museum - Kulturen der Welt, Köln (D), SMBerlin (D), KMMA (Afrikamuseum, B).

View all portraits (page may be heavy to load)