Faces and Races: Digital Composites and “World of Averages”

Faces and Races

Hi guys!

I know that the class is now officially over (sad!), but I thought I would share this with you anyway. When I visited the “alllooksame” website, I decided to take the identification test out of curiosity, and got a terrible score. I then remembered another website I had found a couple of years ago, called “The Postnational Monitor”, and the series I recalled is called “World of Averages”. Among other things (lame political stuff), it contains series of images from all over the world which are composite photographs- basically, they will take the average dimensions of 10-30 faces and combine them into a single image. In addition to containing male and female averages for many different countries, there are additional minor series that look at Hollywood as well as Bollywood actor composites.

The site is intriguing and troubling at the same time. On one hand, the pictures and the process of editing them is really cool. One well-documented side effect of averaged faces in general is that they tend to be more beautiful than individual faces, and this series is no exception. Another thing that I personally noticed is that, like the alllooksame test, I could not reliably tell each country of origin based on the mere appearance of peoples’ faces.

On the other hand, the site produces the same sense of discomfort when viewing the images, because it places the viewer in the position of categorizing people into subgroups based on some notion of “race” -notions that don’t even turn out to be correct (again, personal experience, although alllooksame reports an average of 7/18 correct answers, which is still quite low).

I encourage you all to investigate the website and form your own conclusions!

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