Last week I was looking at the work of Alex John Beck, who has recently produced a portrait project, which consists of symmetrical portraits of people’s faces. Beck took portraits of people and then cut and pasted the right side of the face and the left side of the face to produce two unique symmetrical composite portraits of her models. Her reasoning behind the project was to explore the idea that perfectly symmetrical faces are more beautiful as well as exploring that one face represents one character.
Beck discovered when she mirrored one side of the face; it produced two portraits that looked like siblings of each other. She also noted that neither was necessarily more beautiful than the other.
This idea that we are two characters merged in one body is kind of interesting to me. I knew of the right vs left brain theory. The left side being more analytical and logical compared to the right side which is more creative and emotional.
I started getting interested in these mirrored portraits and saw the work of Julian Wolkenstein. Although I feel is his work is not at the same level as Beck’s (Julian’s work seems more slapped together than Beck’s who has tried to make the seam in the mirroring process less obvious). Julian’s investigation of, “are you more beautiful when symmetrical” is also interesting but not very deep. In his results Julian did note that the original portrait seems to be more beautiful than the symmetrical copies.
Investigations into mirroring portraits as well as left brain and right brain are not new. In looking around the internet I read a lot of different arguments with the most recent studies seeming to debunk the left and right brain personality theories but not how the brain works (the Left side is more analytical and the right more emotional). The most interesting study I read was from 1978 in relation to how we express emotion, which would help reinforce that we have one side of our face which is our better side.
In a case study carried out by Wolf, the right side of the face was perceived as more familiar than the left when created in composites, although the study didn’t take into consideration similarities of the composites.
With this in mind Wolf went on to study which side of the face conveys emotions best. Taking the premise, that there are six emotions which are readily recognizable in the human face; happiness, surprise, fear, sadness, anger and disgust. Wolf took 14 models who posed for each emotion. Composites were made and shown to groups. The groups were shown a composite for ten seconds and then marked on a scale of one to ten the intensity of the emotion. The results showed that the left side composites were judged to be more intensely expressive than the right side. There was only one reservation in the results, since the models were acting the emotion. With the right side of the brain controlling creativity and the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body and the face; it would be expected for the left side of the face to be more intense than the right
Reading many articles and viewing a lot of portraits, I wanted to see what I would look like with a symmetrical face. I set up my camera with a neutral background and front facing light source, to take a series of self-portraits.
In Photoshop I copied the left side of the face first, flipped it and blended the two identical sides together. I then did the same with the right side of the face. I tried to make sure that some obvious features (like moles and scars) were not duplicated and the composites looked like a real face.
Looking at the images I was wondering, which image people would think was the real me. I posted the images onto Facebook and asked my Facebook friends (who should recognise me), which portrait they felt looked like me. Just to mix things up I put the left side composite on the right and the right side composite on the left. The results were interesting. 80% of my friends thought the right image (the left side composite) was most like me and 20% thought the left image (the right side composite) was most like me. To make things more interesting 66% of my family thought the left image was like me.
My wife made an interesting observation that the right image looks more like me now where as the left image looks more like me as when I was younger, this could explain why most of my family choose this image.
The results don’t really tell you much. Using my pop science knowledge, I could conclude that since the right image is the left side of the face mirrored and the left side of the face is from the results of wolfs experiment the more emotionally intense this is what people recognize more.
To me I prefer the right image the same as most people. In the end this was all for fun.
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