Your face is your most obvious distinguishing feature, and the thing that carries the most information about your personality. Friends, family, lovers will all look immediately at your face to see how you are. If a baby can’t see your face, he will forget you are there (think ‘peekaboo!’). The wealthy have always commissioned portraits to display their social status. The internet’s most successful social network is based around the ability to see and tag your friends’ faces in photos. Your face is full of your individuality, your emotions and idiosyncrasies.
So why do we find passport photo machines in supermarkets, rail stations and shopping malls – places that are anonymous, soulless and transitory? Passport photos treat your face as something completely empty of emotion and personality. International guidelines dictate that you not smile or angle your head in them. Although passport photos are intended to be a proof of your unique identity, they reduce you to a set of biometric data without information on personality, social context or emotional life – without information on all the things that make us unique.
And yet identity documents are introducing more and more biometric data to combat identity fraud. Wouldn’t it be interesting to try having our passports contain more of our personalities instead? By linking our passports to our Facebook pages, perhaps?
(Image from UK Home Office guide to passport photographs.)