The Somnambulists

24 Sep

Joanna Kane’s The Somnambulists is an affecting and fascinating collection of photographs of facial casts from the Edinburgh Phrenological Society.


Phrenology was a failed science that held that peoples psychological characteristics were rooted in their brain structure. In this the phrenologists were ahead of their time, this assumption turned out to be true. They believed, also correctly, that many brain functions could localized to particular regions of the brain. However, their map of brain function was widely inaccurate and based on purely anecdotal observation.

Because of their interest in the contours of the head phrenologists collected facial casts, both live masks and death masks.  Many of these masks, held by the Edinburgh Phrenological Society, were made just prior to the rise of photography. Joanna Kane’s photographs allow us to view the faces of people, both famous and obscure, from that period.

Here, for example, is the mask of poet William Blake:


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