The man on my left could be the face of any politician I’ve ever seen. I imagine him speaking with an almost imperceptible drawl next to his blonde-haired wife, two kids, and golden retriever. The man on my right appears, perhaps, a bit friendlier. And is that a monocle on his eye?
These are the faces of the 535 active members of U.S. Congress, averaged together through compositing software. The left is your average Republican. The right is your average Democrat. If they are not twins, they are at least siblings. The pair has the same eyes and the same nose, along with a similar receding hairline and matching tastes in blue sweaters with a J. Crew button-down poking out the top. And it’s downright eerie to see our political tastes averaged out.
The work was a project by Rise Digital, which collected the official photos from each member of the House of Representatives and Senate. As there is no immediate repository of these images, it’s a process that required a full week of scouring the Internet. Software made the rest of the process relatively easy. While some images required a bit of manual cleanup, using Fantamorph and Facemixer, the faces were automatically isolated, composited, and morphed into the images you see here. Anyone who’s seen Alejandro Almaraz’s series Portraits of Power will find the work familiar, though Almaraz used a slightly different technique, averaging faces simply by layering them with no algorithms involved.
Like you and me, the team was surprised just how similar the faces looked side by side. Together, they serve as a very literal face to the lack of diversity in Congress. Of the 540 members detailed in the government's last report, there’s both a strong gender bias—only 88 are women—and a strong racial bias—46 are African-American, 38 are Hispanic or Latino, and 14 are Asian-American or Pacific Islander. And the average age is around 60 years old. But why does the Democrat face look a bit kinder? It may be the influence of femininity in the image, the Rise Digital team suggests. A majority of women in Congress are Democrats.
It’s a depressing visualization for sure, from the standpoint of America’s stale Wonder Bread political tastes. But maybe there is a slightly more optimistic way you can look at these images, too. In a time in our country when the left and right feel so many miles apart, each side is more or less electing the same person.
And on that note, here's what our average president looks like. At the very least, you will notice a distinct lack of radioactive orange skin.
All Images: courtesy Rise Digital