The Face Series - Arnold Newman photographs Picasso

This blog is the first of a series looking at the face through the perspective of Dr. Paul Ekman's extensive and sophisticated work on the facial expression of emotions. With each blog I will be analyzing a portrait using Ekman's resaerch to give us a way of understanding the dramatic impact changes in the face can make to portraits.

Today I'll be comparing two portraits by Arnold Newman of Picasso and the role of what Ekman calls the 'Duchenne smile.' Newman once said that if he hadn't been a photographer perhaps he would have been a psychiatrist, so it seems a fitting start.

Duchenne De Bologne was a French neurologist who discovered how a true enjoyment smile differs from non-enjoyment smiles. In 1862 Duchenne wrote that the zygomaticus major, a muscle running down the cheekbone at an angle to the corner of the lips, and the orbicularis oculi, a muscle which circles the eye, are the two key muscles in enjoyment expressions.

In short, the zygomaticus major muscle can be contracted by people voluntarily as young as ten months old in a deliberate action known as a social smile. The social smile is not an expression of genuine enjoyment, and is deployed for multiple reasons, such as showing politeness, showing that one is not a threat, or that one will 'grin and bear' a current unpleasant situation.

The the second muscle used in enjoyment expressions, the orbicularis oculi, has an inner and outer part. The inner part of the orbicularis oculi can be voluntarily contracted by everyone with a normal range of facial expression, but only 10% of people studied by Ekman could voluntarily contract the outer part. It is this outer part of the orbicularis oculi that Duchenne rightly identified as the indicator of the true enjoyment smile. It is this signal that we will now look for in Arnold Newman's portrait of Picasso.

The material is quoted from a short essay in the book 'Masterclass: Arnold Newman,' by William Ewing. I have cropped these pictures to a small portion of their original size in order that we can pay attention to the face. It was the face that was the deciding factor in which picture Arnold Newman selected as 'the' portrait from a range of contact prints of Picasso.

Ewing rightly notes that in Picture 1 (on left) Picasso looks "absent or bored", whereas in Picture 2 (on right) Picasso has a "direct" gaze and a smile which is more "generous." We as the viewer feel more engaged in Picture 2, but why?

The subtle but very powerful difference in the two portraits is that the outer orbicularis oculi in Picture 2 is active, which has reduced the fold in between the eyelid and eyebrow. Remember it is the outer orbicularis oculi that Duchenne rightly identified as the involuntary marker of genuine enjoyment. It is this subtle difference that makes this an engaging portrait, and lead Arnold Newman to select Picture 2 as 'the' shot.

Training oneself to consciously recognize these facial patterns speeds up recognition of the beginning of an emotion, which can help us during a shoot. Ekman's work suggests that genuine expression of emotion last for usually no longer than 4 seconds, and sometimes lasts as little as 1/15 of a second in micro-expressions.

In future blogs I will look at the 'Bee-man' diptych by Richard Avedon, and an intense expression of grief, photographed by the eminently sensitive portraitist, Don McCullin.

If you would like to study more of this work for yourself, here are some recommended resources:

Emotions Revealed by Dr. Paul Ekman

Unmasking The Face by Dr. Paul Ekman

Masterclass: Arnold Newman, by William Ewing

The Arnold Newman Archive