Above: Clues to a person's identity. Credit: Stux.

Forensic Portrait

Speaking in 1995, Ballard considered a type of composite portrait based on the forensic imagination, whereby a viewer builds-up an impression of a person from only a few scant clues: "we rent a strange [i.e., new] apartment and find traces of the previous occupants--a medical journal, [say] ... a douche-bag [a type of vaginal wash] ... a videotape of an opera--and we begin to assemble from these apparently unrelated materials a hypothesis about who the previous occupants were."

A Ballardian forensic portrait is a portrayal of a person built around clues. Clues that might usually only be of interest to a detective. Evidence for use in a court room. Such clues could be anything from empty food or meds packaging, to till receipts, to a person's Internet-browsing history. The forensic portrait is very different from a conventional portrait. For a conventional photo-portrayal the sitter colludes with the photographer tending to offer a sanitized, idealized version of themselves to the camera. In a forensic portrait the subject is not offered any such opportunity to glamourize. The forensic portrait is constituted by assembling components that the subject would rather not be represented by--the things that all-together perhaps represent or symbolize the worst of the person, or things they are not particularly proud of ... in this way the Ballardian forensic portrait is very similar to the Atgetian outlook as per Walter Benjamin: Atget's interest being in all those things which are unremarked, forgotten, cast-adrift.

(7 February 2019)