Palaeanthropical Physiognomy
Identikit photographs (1) from the German Federal
Criminal Police Office (BKA)

From Teratology to Teratogenesis (2)

By Lucius Burckhardt

[...] Gerhard Lang creates monsters. In scientific terms, he works as such in the field of teratogenesis. But Gerhard Lang is not – despite what he might believe – the first teratogenetician; this field of study goes back to Camille Dareste and was continued by Etienne Wolff in the 1930s. While these scientists devoted themselves to the so-called direct method, Gerhard Lang can reasonably be called the very first representative of hypothetical teratogenesis. Previously, teratogeneticians started with the creation of monsters and subsequently tried to understand them. Lang’s starting point, by contrast, is to create an image of a possible monster. His method seems to be far superior to the one used previously, since every scientist knows that the better you know what you can discover, the more successful the search will be. Gerhard Lang creates pictures of monsters yet to be discovered. It is no coincidence in this case that he refers to a specific method employed in criminal investigations: the identikit photograph [...]

[Excerpt from: Von der Teratologie zur Teratogenese, by Lucius Burckhardt, in: Palaeanthropische Physiognomien, Gerhard Lang (ed.), Deutsche Fototage, Frankfurt, 1993. More about Lucius Burckhardt: see Glossary]

(1) Identikit photograph: see Glossary

(2) Teratology: see Glossary

Palaeanthropical Physiognomy

Identikit Photographs from the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) in Wiesbaden

As part of Gerhard Lang’s Palaeanthropical Physionomy project, the performance On a Quest for the Unknown took place in an interview room at Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) in March 1992. In the course of the performance, images of unknown creatures were produced with the identikit. This identikit was manufactured by Minolta in the 1950s and 1960s, originally with the intention of reconstructing the faces of Hiroshima victims. The Montage Synthesizer entered the field of criminology in the early 1970s through cosmetic surgery. The first terrorist attacks by the Baader-Meinhof Gang prompted the German police to employ the Minolta device to speed up the solving of crimes. The mirroring technology of the identikit allows the combination of fragments from up to four passport photographs (as taken by the police of prisoners). The process of synthesising fragments from four different faces to form a single new one (identikit photograph) is transmitted via video camera onto a vertically positioned control monitor. The identikit photographs for Gerhard Lang’s work were created by a criminologist on the basis of Lang’s descriptions and catalogue of passport photographs – the latter comprising bees, wasps, beetles ... and all the residents of his home village Schloss-Nauses.

[Excerpt from the special publication (Separatum): Palaeanthropical Physiognomy. Identikit Photographs from the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) in Wiesbaden, 2007]


Without the support of  the criminologist who operated the identikit, the work at the BKA would not have been possible.

For further information about the employment of the identikit in Gerhard Lang’s explorations see the following works:

- New Reports from the Countryside. Identikit Photographs of Landscapes

- Identikit Photographs of Clouds
- Schattenblumen

Links (German only):

Media Archive at the Kunsthalle Hamburg

Ill. I: Gorestidae Megaschnee Bicolor, identikit photograph, 1992
Ill. II: Unknown, identikit photograph, 1992
Ill. III: Unknown, identikit photograph, 1992


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Gerhard Lang © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn