Face: A Visual Odyssey

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Product Details

MIT Press
Publish Date
7.2 X 10.0 X 1.2 inches | 2.65 pounds

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About the Author

Jessica Helfand is a designer, artist, and writer. Educated at Yale University, where she has taught for more than twenty years, she is a cofounder of Design Observer and the author of numerous books on visual and cultural criticism. The first Henry Wolf Resident at the American Academy in Rome, Helfand has been a Director's Guest at the Civitella Foundation and a fellow at the Bogliasco Foundation. She will be the artist in residence at the California Institute of Technology in the winter of 2020.


So telling the story of the face, Helfand makes clear, necessarily means telling the story of both personal and collective identity. The face--whether we like it or not--is absolutely connected to who we are and who we believe others to be...The thing about pictures of the face, as Helfand poignantly illustrates, is that the person taking them is almost always missing. The person telling the story--the portrait artist, the director, the member of the family with the camera who is least likely to cut off heads--is never in the picture. Helfand is less interested in the mechanisms, technologies, and infrastructures of facial recognition software and more interested in the artifacts and narratives they produce. Helfand's touch is deft and light, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions about the intertwined anecdotes and theories of the face.

--Public Books

Jessica Helfand's book reminds the reader that their face is a territory of both power and vulnerability. It is the first port of call to judge, categorise, diagnose, mock, shame, bully, legitimise, recognise, monitor. It can be doctored, discriminated against, adorned, hidden. 'Face' is as profound and complex as the theme it covers but it is also fun with its plethora of images, ideas and artworks.


Helfand's visual odyssey nudges readers to look and look again at the faces of world leaders, immigrants, popular figures--even at the face they see in the mirror--to discern what they might reveal.

--Shelf Awareness

Her ambitious history of facial representation delves into often conflicting aspects of recording, measuring, airbrushing, categorizing and otherwise judging faces. Considering tintype photography, digital selfies, mug shots, celebrity photoshoots, Polaroids and more, Helfand examines why and how humans capture their own faces and others', and the ways those images are used: analyzed, judged, manipulated, glorified.

--Shelf Awareness

Beautifully designed and smartly written, this book is an unique view of the visage as image and beyond.

--Steven Heller, Print

Helfand's interrogations are topical, thought-provoking, and often troubling. It is impossible to look away.


What does the mug shot have to do with the selfie? With faces everywhere in our image-obsessed society, self-photographed and otherwise, Helfand's historical and critical approach helpfully zooms out.

--New York Times Book Review