The original Identi-Kit consisted of a series of transparent cards, or foils, on which different types of facial features and accessories were drawn, arranged in a simple wooden box. To assemble a likeness to descriptions provided by witnesses, a police officer or witness would have a broad variety of eyes, noses, lips, ears, foreheads, jaws, and so forth to mix and match, one on top of the other. After the system was purchased in the late 1960s by the legendary gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson, a new version of Identi-Kit emerged that used photographic foils to render the choice of features more precise and realistic. More recently, mechanical composite drawing kits like Identi-Kit have been replaced by specially designed software.
The version of Identi-Kit used in the current project has photographic foils and was used by the rcmp beginning in 1976. The severe limitations of this method of creating composites for identifying criminals is evident. The forty or so types of each individual feature in the kit have little hope of reflecting the infinite nuances of the human face, and indeed research suggests that Identi-Kit makes it more difficult for witnesses to identify criminals. (Today the rcmp relies on sketches by trained forensic artists.) But when applied to oneself in the form of a self-portrait, it can be revealing of the way a person sees his or her self and appearance.