There’s an eerie moment in Jack Finney’s sci-fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers when the novel’s hero comes across a half-formed pod person for the first time. The alien doppelganger’s face has two eyes, two ears, a mouth, but there’s still something missing. It has no lines, wrinkles, or character. It is the physiognomy of a person but not the face of one; one of the main characters describes it with horror as being "like a blank face, waiting for the final finished face to be stamped onto it!"
That would seem to be a fitting description of the gauzy blanks seen in the Portrait series. But instead of being representations of physiognomies waiting for the "finished face" to be stamped on, they’ve been stamped over and over again with the details of every single face you can see in Hollywood movies like The Matrix or Black Swan until they form a single digital countenance: the living face of that film’s ghost.
Created by Seoul-based duo Shin Seung Back and Kim Yong Hun, the Portrait series was made by analyzing every 24th frame of a movie for a human face and then using purposefully corrupted facial recognition algorithms to blend them all together into a single visage. Films analyzed for the project include Avatar, Kill Bill, Oldboy, Taxi Driver, Mission Impossible, Black Swan, The Bourne Identity, and Amélie.
"Computer vision is still far less sophisticated than a human’s, but the ‘untiring eyes’ of computers can at least see far more." the artists tell Co.Design. "Portrait in particular examines the possibilities of how technology can extend human vision. How it can help us see things that we normally could not see."
Here’s a video showing how every face in Avatar was blended into one:
While these combined visages may be abstract, you can still often recognize characters and actors in them. The Avatar face, for example, is slightly leonine and tinged with an otherworldly blue, just like the Na’Vi of the film. You can almost see Neo’s dark sunglasses and black trench coat in The Matrix portrait, and if you squinted, you might be able to identify Oh-Daesu (Oldboy) or The Bride (Kill Bill) as well.
Other portraits, though, seem to be more evocative of the emotional palettes of their respective movies. In the Amélie portrait, only Audrey Tatou’s impish smirk comes through a mist of Parisian brown. And in Black Swan, the countenance that seems to float in a sea of milk looks less like Natalie Portman than it does her character’s lithe, tremulous vulnerability.
"We know that each person will respond differently to the work," says the duo. "Some people think they see the 'face of the movie,' where others are simply confronted with something blurry and scary. We think it’s for the viewers to decide for themselves what they are actually seeing."
What Shin Seung Back and Kim Yong Hun have succeeded in doing with Portraits is capture the ghosts of some of our favorite movies. Like ghosts, they are ethereal and indistinct, yet in them is still darkly glimpsed the soul of the body from which they were drawn. No wonder they’re so haunting.