The process of querying large databases with facial recognition, technologies developed for militaristic or surveillance purposes, has flourished commercially through Facebook’s automatic detection API. This API, allowing the system to recognize people in a photograph without tagging. A new Facebook-led initiative, called DeepFace reconstructs a 3D model of a person’s face, allowing for near-human levels of accuracy.
The ability to rapidly pinpoint an individual in a network coupled with the technology to reconstruct that individual’s likeness poses profound ontological disturbances, and if recent precedents are any indication, those disturbances are disproportionately doled out to women.
In Faces in Extremis, we attempt to navigate these new terrains by subjecting our own images to a series of exercises designed to reconstitute how existing mechanisms view us.
In Ways of Seeing, John Berger details the inherent paradox of female subjectivity– namely the incessant burden of their image as perceived by others. Social conditioning effectively de-couples a woman’s identity so that she is both looking out into the world and looking into herself. The internet provides the perfect companion for this condition– a two-way mirror for which a woman can view themselves as others view her.
To fantasize about women– of a particular woman– sits comfortably within the legal rights of an individual. The law does not mandate a notarized form of consent from the subject of a man’s desire. Her consent in the realm of fantasy is, effectively, moot. Those affordances all but vanish when a person makes an untoward advance on a woman physically– her consent matters. Where consent becomes problematic is in the realm between the vistas of the mind and physicality. The digital world is one such murky domain.
In the sub-Reddit /r/doppelbanger, men submit photos of women they desire — an ex-lover, an aloof co-worker, a comely barista. Moderators and members attempt to match these photos to lookalike porn star. For our purposes we submitted Pam’s photo to these pro-bono mechanical turks.
Pam’s photo gives no impression of her body– just the shoulders up. Other than an inconclusive recommendations to “Cyndall” and a few hilarious jabs at her green coiffure, it didn’t really make it to the front page. Instant slush pile. And yet, the photo garnered 6230 views within weeks. After an initial spike, views held steady. Our conclusion is that the participants in these forums are less interested in offering matches than the submitted content itself.
Using a service like face match or GreatFap offered instant matches. The nether regions of the internet are littered with these sites that promise to match any face to a porn star using crude face recognition technologies. By submitting a photo to this site, you are giving the service blanket rights over the distribution.
So naturally we submitted our own photos.
We took our closest matches and blended their photographs to reconstitute an after-image of how these algorithms view us. We fed our results back into the engine, and it was intelligent enough to detect a few matches in our composite. The reification of fantasy through technology is coming closer and closer. What happens when something as lossy as fantasy achieves total vérité?
We aren’t meant to see our sexual desires played out at high resolution. As Roland Barthes states, “it is intermittence, as psychoanalysis has so rightly stated, which is erotic: the intermittence of skin flashing between two articles of clothing (trousers and sweater), between two edges (the open-necked shirt, the glove and the sleeve); it is this flash itself which seduces, or rather: the staging of an appearance-as-disappearance.” In the internet age, perhaps the intermittence is the space between pixels, or a JPEG artifact. If any woman can be made into a naked puppet without her consent or even knowledge, the result becomes banal, and ultimately a universal deadening of the erotic.