The faces behind the books

by September 21, 2010

Slavoj Zizek, philosopher (photo by Steve Pyke)

As people professionally caught up in the life of the mind, philosophers exist for many of us as disembodied names linked to embodied books — we can remember the colour, cover design, and size of many of the books we’ve read — yet even so it is remarkable how few of these thinkers can be called to mind as physical faces: I can visualize Isaiah Berlin’s striking combination of bald head, horn-rims, and bushy eyebrows, can see Karl Marx’s beard, Michel Foucault’s hipster glasses and turtleneck… and that’s about all. So Steve Pyke’s classic photographs of philosophers remain intriguing, and often compelling: one can find oneself scrutinizing a particular portrait, searching for signs of the immense and unconventional mind behind the banal wrinkles.

Pyke’s first volume of portraits was published in 1993; he has recently produced another series of one hundred pictures documenting the current generation of philosophers, which will be available from Oxford University Press in May 2011.