Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Head, The Heart, The Hand: Anonymous Portraits of Strangers

I've often heard the claim--and I'm sure you have too--that technology and social media tear apart "real" relationships and diminish humans' ability to experience "true" interaction. I've always been wary of this claim, however, as I feel social media and technology, rather than isolate us, bring together human thoughts, words, and images that may otherwise never have encountered one another.

An interactive art project demonstrates beautifully this very phenomenon. NYC-based designer Jeff Greenspan (creator of the hilarious "Hipster Traps") recently helped to launch the project "Selfless Portraits," a website that allows people to submit their Facebook profile picture to a complete stranger, somewhere in the world, who will create a hand-drawn portrait using your photo. You receive this portrait only after you create a hand-drawn portrait of some other stranger's profile photo. The photos with their accompanying portrait are then displayed on the website's gallery.

These portraits take on all different artistic forms-- some are very literal renderings while others are totally abstract. I love the idea that someone who does not know you at all (and likely does not even speak the same language as you) can communicate something potentially quite profound (or at least humorous!) about the way you present yourself to the world.

When you hover over each photo in the gallery, it shows the name and country of the person who submitted the photo on the left, and the name and country of the person who created the portrait on the right. Often, the countries have oceans between them, miles and miles and countless cultural differences, but communication happens nevertheless through this emerging techno-visual vocabulary, interpreting the human face and proposing a new representation of that (unknown and yet so familiar) human face...

Lucian Freud, famous for the portraits he painted, said "I paint people, not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be." While these internet-based portraits are vastly different in their execution from the meticulous hand of Lucian Freud, they share an almost identical concept as the one Freud expressed-- regardless of who this person may think they are, the artist must always make a decisions about how they see a person being at the moment they are "sitting" for their portrait.

While its true that so much of social media can serve as a testament to our most vapid and inane tendencies, it has also opened the door to this novel kind of visual interaction. In circumventing the interference of language, the academy, money, and labels, these portraits are allowed to be created out of sheer joy of creating portraits, offering us a new and fascinating way to experience total strangers. I think that's pretty wonderful.

I am tempted to submit my photo and give it a try myself! Who's with me?!

Until next time, fair petticoat rustlers-- keep rustling! 

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