logotype reads, human dash into face dot net


Photographs of people span a wide gamut of intentions and contexts. There are pictures of people created for the purpose of recording scientific/medical information, sociological/historical documentation, commercial advertising, family snapshots, and portraits. It can be confusing to determine where a particular photo of a face fits into the taxonomy of people pictures. Some artists find this issue of uncertainty, ripe ground to explore. Artists such as Chuck Close and Thomas Ruff make images of people's faces that would typically be considered portraits. However, their works deny certain descriptions that we are used to seeing in portraiture, and we are challenged to define the work.

Artists have long deconstructed and subverted the typical use of images to force us to re-examine how powerfully we are both informed and manipulated by them. Since the birth of what we generally conceive as the personal computer, the photographic image has become destabilized as a "proof" of reality. Computer programs such as Adobe Photoshop™, allow us to manipulate and deliver images so convincing that they could rewrite history. We can no longer trust that any image we see is produced by the entirely mechanical process of light, lenses, and chemistry. The concept of photography as a non-proof of reality has become more widely understood because of computer programs and the work of artists such as Jeff Wall. Wall, creates elaborately posed and orchestrated compositions that mimic ordinary snapshots. His work under-minds our trust of photographic reality, and forces us to reconsider what we have previously believed as photographic truth.

The Work

human-intoface.net is an exploitation of facial expression as a clear means of communication. It is an exploration into faces that we make for fun, on command, and for the camera. The web was chosen as a vehicle for the piece because of its mass distribution, lack of specific context to the physical body, and its simple mode of interaction with the work. Interaction is a form of communication and as such, the idea of reestablishing a connection between the viewer and the faces is hoped for. The site incorporates approximately 1300 individual images of the face that have been personally created, found in facial recognition studies, gleaned from the New York most wanted criminals website, and compiled from google.com searches for images with the filename containing the word "face" in the filename. The development of the piece is such that images can be continuously added with ease. The idea is to allow the site to continually evolve with new images and new grid structures.

The viewer's perception is challenged through the juxtaposition of faces from different contexts. Unlike " still" photography, time has a direct bearing on the unfolding of meaning, as the pieces change with time. Additionally, direct manipulation, alters the predefined progression through time, and changes the work through the viewer's free "will". Randomness, memory, and expectation, all come into play as the viewer dismisses faces and parts of faces. Some images disappear, never to return, while others return in various ways. Like life, the faces come into our lives quickly, and fade slowly. human-intoface.net, models the way faces influence our perception of time and memory as we say "hello" and " goodbye" to a sea of faces.

The beginning of this inquiry focused upon, the idea that through the subject's limited choice of specific facial expressions, that there could be some method of determining a bit more information about an individual's personality. It is through " choice" that perhaps something internal could be revealed. After all, what is it that makes up who we are, other than a lifetime of choices and decisions? Perhaps, we could determine if the initial personality trait was one of humor or contemplative reflection. If the choices were limited to only three "faces", would the subject more carefully determine who they were?

In the midst of this study, I came across the work of Paul Ekman. Ekman is perhaps one of a handful of people who could be considered a supreme authority on the science of the human face. In his studies, he has determined that the " human face is capable of creating approximately 10,000 different physical configurations. The question arose, in contrast to the previous hypothesis, “ If a compilation of 10,000 images of a single subject were to be compiled, how would this function in light of "choice" as subject? In addition to the triptych of subject choices, a series of facial expression from a single subject were created for comparison and contrast to the original effort. Nine thousand seventy-four configurations short of Ekman's magic number, it was determined that a complete database would ultimately void the previous notion. This is because a complete set would reveal even less than a limited set, because almost no subjective choice would remain. Perhaps the specific order would reveal something? However, with 10,000 attempts, it becomes almost impossible for the viewer to keep track of any variations in order after the first one thousand images. The decision was made to limit the number to thirty-six variations; a number that is integral to the photographic community.

The use of multiplicity, and series from the previous exploration came together in the approach to use the square grid as a vehicle for dissecting the images into discrete sections. The face is fragmented and sliced into small sections. From a pool of images, the corresponding section of each face can be interwoven and recombined with other sections of different faces. This act of shuffling the components of the face can create a negative emotion in the viewer. At times, it can have a humorous effect. The face loses its structure and the overall gestalt is lost. However, the reconfiguration can at times suggest a recogninizably complete face and the gestalt reappears. The fading in and out of a section pulls our attention to the disappearing piece as it is replaced by a new part that may or may not maintain the structure. There is both structure and randomness working with or against each other. Our prewiring to recognize faces becomes stretched in and out of activity. This disturbance generates an emotional dissonance that forces us to attempt to reestablish a totality.

Slicing up the face into a series of squares, effectively alters the amount of information in each section. This systematic alteration of resolution changes how the pieces fit together when pieces of other faces are replaced in the relative grid positions. Sometimes they fit together such that the structure of the face is not distorted, other times they create physically impossible configurations. The face is treated like a sentence, where a madlibs sensibility is applied in an effort to create a recombined emotional statement. The effect of changing the size of the pieces increases the potential for losing overall recognition. As sections are enlarged, it becomes easier to maintain an emotional tone in the image, but it is further denied by the forced changes through programming, time, and randomness.

Not bored yet!? Read the whole study -> Human-IntoFace.pdf (4MB)