An intuitive graph optimization face recognition approach called Harmony Search Oriented-EBGM (HSO-EBGM) inspired by the classical Elastic Bunch Graph Matching (EBGM) graphical model is proposed in this contribution. In the proposed HSO-EBGM, a recent evolutionary approach called harmony search optimization is tailored to automatically determine optimal facial landmarks. A novel notion of face subgraphs have been formulated with the aid of these automated landmarks that maximizes the similarity entailed by the subgraphs. For experimental evaluation, two sets of de facto databases (i.e., AR and Face Recognition Grand Challenge (FRGC) ver2.0) are used to validate and analyze the behavior of the proposed HSO-EBGM in terms of number of subgraphs, varying occlusion sizes, face images under controlled/ideal conditions, realistic partial occlusions, expression variations and varying illumination conditions. For a number of experiments, results justify that the HSO-EBGM shows improved recognition performance when compared to recent state-of-the-art face recognition approaches. © 2016 Elsevier Inc.