Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Nancy Burson: Image Morphing

Digital media art expands the range of possibilities for how we create and experience art. Through the use of technology we can explore traditional art concepts in new ways. Artists can reshuffle old images in an infinite amount of ways and even create images that do not exist in real life.

One well-known digital media artist is Nancy Burson. She is best known for her work in image morphing. She uses the image morphing method in her pieces Beauty Composites: First (left) and Second (right), which can be seen below. She created these faces by morphing the photos of celebreties. The first photo is a morphing of the faces of Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe and the second is of Jane Fonda, Jacqueline Bisset, Diane Keaton, Brook Shields and Meryl Streep. She takes away the individuality of each celebrity and creates one representative image for all of them. By choosing to morph images of celebrities instead of randomly selected people, Burson comments on our society's view of beauty.

Beauty Composites: First (left) and Second (right), 1982
Burson is also well-known for her project the Human Race Machine. A person can sit in the machine and have their photo taken (similar to photo booth on a Mac) and the machine shows you what you would look like if you were Asian, Black, Hispanic, Indian, Middle Eastern and White. In order to see what you would look like as each race, the image of your face is morphed with the image of a person from the other race. Check out this link to see how it works!

Her goal of this project is to show us that people are much more similar than they are different. The images of the six races created by the Human Race Machine often look very similar to the original image of the person. The only major difference may be the person's skin color. This is what Burson aims to show people with this project. Even though there is a gene for skin color, there is not a gene for race. The gene for skin color is one out of the 3.1 billion letters in the human genome and people often do not recognize people are all 99.9% alike.

In both of these works of art Burson used mathematical functions and computer programming to morph the images together. In fact, this morphing technology is also used by the FBI in missing persons reports to create possible images of how people would look in the future. As a math major, it is interesting to see how the the mathematical world can play a role in the art world. Burson shows how the collaboration of artists, mathematicians and computer programmers can create interesting images that also have a social meaning behind them.

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