There’s a compelling bit of forensic face recognition on the front page of today’s West. Unfortunately the photos of the faces of whistleblower Ashton Foley and the American woman she is alleged to be is not shown in the online version of the news story. Do you think they are photos of the same person? I can only pick a few differences, none of which definitely rules out a match. I think the photo on the left is of a younger, slimmer, more miserable or tired woman, perhaps with darker skin. I get a feeling of African-American racial identity from the face on the left but not the one on the right. Why is unclear, and it could be based on stereotyping. The photo on the left is, I presume, a mugshot, the one on the right apparently not. Perhaps the cues that a photo is a mugshot make me unconsciously associate it with African-Americans. Psychology research finds that most people operate on racist stereotypes even if we aren’t consciously racist.
Perhaps the most significant difference between the two is that the one on the left has eyes that seem darker. This difference in the eyes could possibly be a result of lighting, because the eye is a three-dimensional thing, and when we look at an eye we literally look into an eye, at the pupil and the iris, which are inside the structure of the eye. I’ve been perplexed when viewing video of people who have light-coloured eyes and there are moments when one or both eyes seem to darken or pupils seem to enlarge greatly, giving a scary effect, but what’s really happening is that the angle of the light changes and the eye is becoming insufficiently lit to display their light-coloured irises.
The hair, hairline, ear profile, shoulder slope and most aspects of the faces seem to match. I would very much like to see profile shots of Ms Foley and the American woman she is alleged to be, to see if the ear shape matches. Ear shape is apparently as unique and identifiable as the face. Ear shape was an important factor in trying to solve the fascinating Taman Shud case in Adelaide.
As Ms Foley suggests, fingerprints need to be checked, even though the forensic science of fingerprints has been seriously bought into question. As a super-recognizer I don’t have a strong intuition or feeling of recognition about the question of identity. I can’t rule out a match, but that doesn’t prove a match.