Chernoff faces have always fascinated me as one of the fringe visualization techniques. The recognition of feelings expressed through a facial structure activates a personal response to the information. This form strangely humanizes information.

In the past Chernoff faces have felt somewhat arbitrary — funny hats, weird hair, and facial compositions that were barely recognizable. The graphic method is the inside joke of information designers. But, part of the problem in these representations of the form is that it extends the aesthetic of Cartesian representation to something that should engage with emotional and subjective visualization.

We have become so married to the Cartesian plane as an explanation method that other forms seem alien and strange, even a face. We do live in a world that is alien and strange. It expresses itself in massive tumultuous ephemera that we reduce down to linguistic signal, discarding the unknown or the “noise.” In these lost textures are the potential for new expressive languages that can be mapped for meaning through harmonious spectrums and artful keys.

But back to this investigation, “What is the scale of a face?”

Our latest obsession with appearance is mediated by the new technology that defines our contemporary moment: the selfie, facial recognition, photoshopped physiques, plastic surgery, botox for expression suppression, and social media describe the new role our faces play in presenting data.  We seem to be distributing faces at a greater volume for public consumption than ever before.  We may actually see people as their profile images more often than we ever see their physical faces.

What are possibilities for the plasticity of our new identities?

I was interested in additional facial analysis methods to make the Chernoff face a more coherent method of emotional visualization. It has always felt that a deconstruction of the attributes that make up the face in order to pull the individual data elements values is counterproductive to the method. The Chernoff face must be used to represent a totality of the values.

Plastic surgeons are in the business of creating the total look. When they do surgery on a nose, it is crucial that they are able to balance that nose with the rest of the features. The positive total of compositional elements (not one feature) is key to the work of making people more beautiful. One method of evaluating this total beauty is phi-face.


Phi-face uses the golden ratio to create proportional relationships that are considered “pleasing” or beautiful. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but Phi-face claims an objective model for the faces that we hold up as ideal.

This method for me is more investigation than assertion.  It seems to me that there may be a variety of ethnographic and political reasons why this is problematic, but in this work I am using this as an artifact of our contemporary obsession with perfection.


Paul Eckman’s book “Unmasking the Face” documents how facial expressions can be used to describe emotions and this can also be a very useful way of mapping data to facial features. When looking at the data to map into the display, can eyes and their various states of emotional display be combined with mouth and eyebrow combinations to message a certain state?


Combining these two techniques with more realistic representations of the face so that the total change is recognizable also pushes the possibility of this form even as it teeters into the uncanny valley.  It also seems like an interesting aggregation method and display for emotional avatars that can message complex dynamics in a personable way.  I composited these images in Photoshop using a selection of images from Tim Cook from various press photos and then aligned them based on the values into the ranges that the Phi Mask and Chernoff mask defined.  My own subjectivity in finding the faces that seemed to describe the state of AAPL’s performance in the related year is part of the work.  I am interpreting Tim’s expression based on my own subjective biases.

Our cultural landscape is defined not just by the pervasiveness of images that reflect capital, but the transparency discourses that share  methodology to speed belief in capital systems.  Ultimately this is an experiment in art portraiture, like Warhol’s serial variations. I am interested in how objects are embedded with their time, place & politic. Tim Cook is yet another Marilyn in our massive unforgettable index of the faces of our popular culture. How does the slow loss of reference disfigure over time and refigure our detritus for new ontological interests?