So what were you thinking?
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA — The human face - center of attention not only for all verbal communication, but much non-verbal communication as well. The things are everywhere you look (everyone has one, and apparently some people have two), and while we may never give a moment's thought to what might be going on behind most of the faces we see, or even our own judgements about people made solely on the basis of their faces, a pair of self-promotional sites may well have you thinking twice about not thinking at all. The Thought Project and Stereotypes each deal with a different side of what goes on when we look at a face.
The more recent of the two sites (launched in January), the Thought Project is simplicity itself - both in mission and execution. Wondering what the average pedestrian might be pondering as they commuted from point A to B, Danish photographer Simon Hoegsberg simply went up to strangers on the streets of New York and Copenhagen and asked them what they were thinking about the moment before he stopped them. He then recorded the responses and took photographs of 150 willing participants (of which 55 are currently featured online).
With his raw material harvested, Hoegsberg placed the results onto an equally straightforward website. The Flash-based presentation opens with little more than a title and an 11x5 grid of participants' snapshots - dimmed almost to black until you rollover each face. (The only other interactive spots on the page load About and Contact information, and link to the studio that designed the site.) Choose a likely looking portrait -or simply start at the top left to view the production in sequence- and the Project replaces the grid with a subject-specific page.
To the left of the screen, subject pages offer a larger version of the portrait from the home page grid. (Which, at full size, reveal themselves to not only be closely cropped images of the thinkers' faces, but ones of exceptionally shallow depth of field - so much so that while the eyes are always in sharp focus, the eyebrows are soft and the tip of the nose a blur.) On the left are unedited transcripts of each person's response to Hoegsberg's question.
Presumably, the 55 people recorded on this site were the most cerebrally active, because there seems to have been a great deal of thinking going on - though not necessarily about matters vital to...well, even the person thinking them. ("I was thinking about if I should walk straight ahead or if I should turn right." "I was thinking about cardboard.")
Of course, you can't fairly judge a thought by its opening line, and many of the responses actually flesh out rather nicely, covering themes from relationships to religion to work to corporate corruption to, "Why do intermediate-range ballistic missiles cost as much as an allotment shed?"
And who among us hasn't pondered that one from time to time? (I couldn't help but wonder, though, as I explored the replies, just how many "Nothing."s Hoegsberg encountered before collecting his 150 keepers - and if anyone responded with, "I was wondering what you were thinking just now.")
In most cases, available thoughts overflow the available space on a single page, so clicking anywhere on the text box loads the next segment of the transcript, and eventually cycles back to page one. If you're not sure about the length of an entry, placing your mouse over the text box will reveal the number of pages required to fully capture each subject's contemplations.
None are longer than four short pages, but since some of the Thought Project's entries may start to remind the viewer of Grandpa Simpson's narrative skills, it might be helpful to know just how much of each person's thinking you'll be expected to digest.
And while there are frequently clues -or even outright declarations- in the transcripts, the site itself reveals no specific information about the subjects (no names, no ages, no occupations, no locales). Still, it's clear from the content that Hoegsberg was either concentrating his survey in artistic districts of the two cities, or preferred the responses that he received from professional and aspiring creatives. (To be fair, you probably wouldn't get a response like, "I'm walking to think and I'm only thinking when I'm walking, or what's the saying? I think best when I'm walking. So I know what I was thinking..." from a Fortune 500 CEO.)
Stereotypes is just as straightforward in its user experience, and just as focused in its subject matter, but while The Thought Project might have you wondering what's going on behind other peoples' faces next time you're in a crowd, Stereotypes could have you observing your own reactions to those same faces.
Online for a few years now, our second example of recreational self-promotion is the creation of California-based photographer, Eric Myer. Adapting a common children's book device of horizontally splitting pages in half in order to create cartoon hybrids of various animals, Stereotypes presents visitors with 20 (split) head-and-shoulders thumbnails of men, women and one child of various races, lifestyles, and, shall we say, 'fashion senses' - all of which can generate a full-sized image on the same page.
To the right of the thumbnails is a 'starting image' (a randomly chosen, full-sized version of one of the thumbnails), and from this point the visitor simply clicks the top or bottom half of the various thumbnails to start mixing and matching pieces in the full sized portrait - creating some amusing, surprising, and even mildly disturbing, combinations. As well as manually manipulating the pairings, visitors can also click on a random generation button, or play a continuing stream of combinations in a slide show.
Apart from the amusement and potential enlightenment that might be derived from this site, Stereotypes also represents some impressive photographic manipulation. While not all the top/bottom matches are absolutely seamless, most are, and such a good fit across so many different facial shapes and textures is impressive - as is finding an appropriate "middle tone" to represent all the subjects' skin color.
Both sites operate intuitively and functioned without a hiccup. Perhaps the only caveat that should be attached to these projects regards the risk of unconsciously staring at strangers the next time you're in a crowd.