FaceValue: The (human) face's value in a time of rapidly mutating standards and techno norms

Recession, depression, faceless enemies, aerial views, cutbacks, bailouts, dead bulls and raging bears: FaceValue is not traded on the stock market — yet.

FaceValue is what you and I will have left after CCTV gets hooked to the Facebook databank and parents look younger than their children. FaceValue is what will make a Britney lookalike earn more than Spears herself. FaceValue is what will remain after contemplating the appropriate nose for the day. FaceValue is what you’ll consider while putting in a new chimplant order at RapidAesthet3d the morning after. FaceValue is what stares back at you and me, relentlessly reflected in the surrounding screens as they fade to black.

Permanent FaceValue

FaceValue will remain after the Internet blacks out, putting monikers and avatars to sleep. Grainy purple Photo Booth portraits of girls.jpg #ThickEuroCamgirl #ShavedCreampie endlessly reposted, the breadcrumbs leading to their intimate Tumblr origins long trailed off, before/after anti-ageing cream miracle comparisons with two different faces as proof, pop-ups and banners twitching and smiling in RGB hues, the replicas copies multiples, same faces different names same names different faces, fictionally multiplying the world population, are all asleep. Imagine how quiet it will be. “Bad breath is better than none.” @TheTweetOfGod 1)

And sometime before this I was trying to make a purchase choice: face.xxx, face.gov, face.biz, or the plain and simple face.info? There were no bundle offers available.

Face.com — “Is that you?” — sold for an undisclosed sum (reportedly $100 Million) to Facebook in June 2012.2) Face.com is a fully fledged facial recognition technology company; its Klik app allows you to identify faces on the go via your mobile device by combing for a perfect match through the Facebook database. Face needs to exist in both worlds, on- and offline, in order to be recognized. Klik promises face recognition in the palm of your hand, like John Travolta/Nicolas Cage's character's identifying palm-over-face gesture in 1997's Face/Off.3) As identification shifted from the face to a gesture, proximity is the only environment of possible certainty.


Deflated Face

Face is what you and I are born with. Its value lies within its virgin singularity as well as its intrinsic honesty. Individually dispersed, face is yours to begin with; take it or take it. Handle as you please. It is a corporeal multilingual manifestation in appearance: intimate and remote, sensual and brute, inviting and repelling. Face provides an adjustable Gaussian blur, rendering the sharp, rigid form underneath approachable. Face is a dual-functioning shield and signifier. The face as surface presents a naked canvas with an adjustable transparency layer. As Levinas puts it, “The skin of the face is that which stays the most naked, most destitute (…) there is an essential poverty in the face; the proof of this is that one tries to mask this poverty by putting on poses, by taking on countenance.”4) The face as communicator and identifier will always read as face and be read as intrinsically human, naked or overdressed, in shreds or huddled in cloth.

A face is to the body what an interface is to the screen. As such, the face can be personalised, designed, adjusted, adapted. A face is a status indicator, a steady news feed without the ability to scroll back in time. Instead, time piles up in layers, becoming visible through duration. Banderas recently declined an interface update. “I have eye bags and some people have proposed to me to take them out but I said no.”5) The face is the pivotal interception of truth and reality in constant animation: YourNameHere_Face.gif.

collected facebook photos over a years time

Mining FaceValue

Facial reproduction can be found as far back as ancient Egypt; portraiture served to immortalise rulers and gods in highly stylised depictions. Likeness to physicality was not of great concern; the practice of portrait painting was reserved for the rich and powerful and presented a statement in itself. In the 14th century, during the Renaissance, the development of oil paints and canvas in northern Europe allowed for greater detail in portraiture. In the Netherlands, Jan van Eyck pioneered the photorealistic painting technique for heads and faces. It took until 1839, however, for Robert Cornelius' first daguerreotype photograph to mark the start of the wider availability of facial reproduction. Photography relied on chemicals rather than a skilled hand and became widely available over the 1900s. It could freeze and capture a face realistically rather than building a depiction thereof over the course of multiple sittings. On January 11, 2013, a portrait painting of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery in London; an array of critiques and Internet memes ensued. “This is a rotten portrait,” said Robin Simon, editor of the British Art Journal. Artist Paul Emsley defended his work by claiming it unphotogenic: “It needs to be seen in person to be understood and appreciated fully.”6) Seems that Diana was better off with Mario Testino's portrait photographs.7)

Portrait Painting of Kate Middleton at the National Portrait Gallery Jan 2013

Mr. Beans Middleton

The singularity of a portrait painting and the duration of its production renders it exclusive and commercially impractical. Photography developed from plates in 1816 to film in 1885 to image sensors in 1975. Capture devices became smaller and image processing more affordable, making it widely available and diminishing exclusivity. On June 11, 1997, the innovator Philippe Kahn instantly shared an image of the birth of his daughter with 2,000 family members, friends and associates from his wife’s hospital bed, in the first photograph wirelessly shared via cell phone.8) In 2010, Motorola sold 1 billion cell phone cameras, more units than camera makers.9)

Kahns daughter, 1st wirelessly shared cell phone photo, 1997

Advancements in imaging technology led to an inflation of faces – not that there suddenly were more new faces but rather more of the same ones. With the advent of photographic reproduction, the face moved from the corporeal to the flat, to a display space. Robert Cornelius was suddenly able to hold his face in his hands, to have it look back at him. Unlike the temporary flat reflection of a mirror, a photograph was a way to share arrested time, pass it on, make a copy. The endless flood of images that ensued quickly became copies of copies, over time drifting into anonymity and shifting from “a portrait of a face” to merely “an image of some face”. To quote Paul Virilio: “This endlessly reproduced image is no longer a piece of information but a suggestion (…) something else than showing reality.”10)

The anonymity of the face allows tag categorisation. #hugelips #cute #nerd #glassesrhot. Categorisation makes faces searchable and turned microblogging site Tumblr, used primarily for personal mood boards of scrambled pixels and/or photo booth snapshots, with or without boyfriend/cat/clothes, into a vast involuntary stock photography vault, full of readily accessible material for identity theft. Tumblr’s most prominent feature and content generator is “reblogging”, a reposting option available for every image on Tumblr that lets images be swept away into virtual oblivion. Tags make the face vulnerable to bots and reblog fanaticism. Tumblr outfits each uploaded IMG with an IMG ID and custom URL, making it impossible to trace. Thanks to reblogging, almost no face is lost; only the trace leading to its source disappears. The face turns into an anonymous orphan, swept far away from the home shores, taking on multiple lives of its own. Suddenly a portrait of a middle-aged woman resurfaces as Carole Gayle, a meds journalist on ezinearticles.com, and Nancy King, a housewife in Indiana reviewing “how to cook better in ten steps” on Amazon. What they share is the same orphaned face.

Laura fake facebook pop-up ad

I first encountered Laura in a fake pop-up friend request ad for Facebook. A Google Images search led me to a breast enlargement specialist Annabelle Larkins, LinkedIn profile of teacher Adriana Boteanu including her pdf certificate by iTeach and a College in Romania as well as the Facebook profile of Sabrina Faratti. After multiple failed contact attempts with the school in Romania, as that was the only contact available, the name to the face and thus the source is still unclear. The multiple online personalities of different names but same faces all seem somewhat believable. The versatility of the face is powerful and flexible.

Flexible power product

Amy Winehouse's Dad

Coins, developed around 600 BC in ancient Greece, mark the inception of the face as a flexible power product. Traditionally, heads of gods and deities were engraved on coins. Alexander the Great was the first living person to have his face engraved on coins. His expanding empire demanded flexible, fast-paced circulation of a power product to mark his position in the vast and remote territories of the conquered lands. Regardless of Alexander's portrait’s accuracy, engraved on a coin, it lifted him into the sphere of the gods, of the utmost power. Putting himself on a level with heaven diminished the engraving's need for physical resemblance. The face became a power product engraved on a coin, a flexible object in constant circulation. Reducing a face to appearance results in the face becoming a symbol, a placeholder to signify something that is not.

Alexander's coin

Carole Gayle and Nancy King have faces, thus they must be people. But they are not people in the sense that we are able to give them a call or slap them a high five. Their face is real but detached from the corporeal body. The orphaned face took on a life of its own as a flexible power product in constant virtual circulation. The face possesses power as an intrinsically human trait suggesting a physical body somewhere. It signifies human reality without the responsibility of a body. A face suggests it never comes alone.

Pop-up ads trying to become friends, LinkedIn emails suggesting connections, Facebook relationships built on a profile photo and a bunch of photo albums – the face contains the flexibility to be in all those spaces while communicating “real human behind this face”. We meet them in the display space and take them at FaceValue.

Manti Te'o's girlfriend Lennay Kekua as well as his grandma died in September 2012.11) The football player went on to complete a successful season with the Notre Dame team despite personal hardship. After news of the girlfriend's death circulated in the mainstream media, a girl surfaced claiming to be the person whose face was shown in the media as Lennay Kekua’s. It turned out Kekua and Te'o had never met physically but rather on Twitter as @MTeo_5 and @lovalovaloveYOU on Oct. 10, 2011. They kept in daily contact via cell phone and chat, never actually meeting. The face and the person Te'o fell in love with did not match. The face and photos were from another girl's Facebook account – they belonged to a real, existing person, but not the one Te'o had been talking to for two years. Why didn't he find out earlier that his girlfriend wasn't who she claimed to be online? The practice of catfishing12), stealing someone’s identity to meet people online, seems to make no sense. How is so much trust given to a handful of photos and a name found on a social media profile? “Involuntary stock photography” provides a source of authentic personality profiles and allows people to take advantage of the face's power and the trust in physicality.

TheChive13), a self described photo-entertainment website, hosts a forum dedicated to “find her” requests filled with faces of teenage girls assembled by lonely guys. The images have desperate morning-after-lipstick-on-mirror like scribbled messages of “Find her”, “Oh My God!! Please find this Angel!”, “MOAR!!”. Each post is an attempt to retrace the face's source – a need for physicality in order to carry out yet another Face/Off hand gesture, confirming certainty and trust through proximity.


Techno norms, or the deliberate production of FaceValue in the display space

Technology evokes techno norms as a result of the perpetual innovation and extension of possibilities in the display space. The display space is where we encounter faces. It is the screens, devices and gadgets displaying faces. The display space provides involuntary encounters with faces in pop-up ads and phishing emails as well as voluntary encounters on Skype and in telecommunication and social media. Faces live as flexible travelling merchants in the display space. The face must adapt its design strategies to display spaces’ mutating standards for the deliberate production of faces retaining their maximum value and power.

Carly Fiorina Getting Ready

One of the most effective transmission of faces has been through TV and cinema. With the development of broadcast TV, distances decreased and audiences increased. Suddenly thousands of people would stare at the same face from thousands of different places simultaneously.

In the years previous to 1940, TV broadcasts were displayed in a grainy black and white. The cameras at the time were fairly primitive and had issues with registering light skin tones. Therefore, to appear on film and screen, actors had to wear black lipstick and green foundation makeup. Development during the 1960s introduced colour to the screen. Its resolution (the standard definition of SDTV) remained low, however, making it possible to apply heavy cream or pancake makeup in a thick layer of foundation to even out any wrinkles and blemishes, sculpting a smooth, plastic appearance.

Pan-Cake make-up ad 1948

Pancake foundation, trademarked by Max Factor in 193714), gained popularity among actresses on screen, using a lighter formula than previous oil based products. The 1948 ad promising “that smooth, young look,” like “Marilyn Maxwell in Metro-Goldwyn Mayer's Summer Holiday,”15) is advertising a use of the makeup removed from the intended on-screen context. The technological advancement of the TV required a new functionality of makeup, and as it transitioned to the physical environment it changed women's physical appearance. The layered plasticity of the on-screen face was disguised through the broadcast’s too few pixels, in a disguise not provided off screen, revealing the functionality of the product.

America's first nationwide broadcast in digital high definition was of John Glenn's liftoff in the space shuttle Discovery in 1998. It took another dozen years for HDTV to go mainstream. High definition brought 10x higher resolution and less makeup. It unveiled the layers of pancake makeup, introducing a less-is-more aesthetic. Suzanne Patterson, a makeup artist, comments on the difficulties of the high resolution and detailed depiction HD offers, “the pressures […] because the appearance of celebrities in HD might not always be as perfect as the public perceives them.”16) The harsh image of HDTV required an adapted makeup with more attention to detail. The plastic appearance achieved by pancake makeup questioned the perception of the celebrity face in High Definition.

Make Up For Ever's HD High Definition Complexion line of products is “both invisible on HD cameras and to the naked eye”, offering a soft-focus effect for the face. Christian Dior Capture Totale High Definition powder “transforms the reflection of the on-surface light to recreate a high definition brightness”. Cargo’s Blu_Ray High Definition is “makeup so good you can't see it”. Techno norms and the resulting face only read and function in the context of their development. Once removed, they are stripped of their function. Rendered useless, they read as avant-garde interpretations of a distant future, a comical gesture born out of too much imagination, rather than a new aesthetic, mutating standards over time.

Pixel Perfect HD Make-up

In 2009 during the premiere of the movie Nine in New York, photos of Nicole Kidman appeared: “What's all the powder on her face?” Most photos documenting the evening show Kidman with white powder covering her nose and under her eyes, in the exact spots where foundation is applied. Kidman looks more like Tony Montana in coke heaven than an elegant beauty. HD makeup reflects light differently than regular makeup, making it possible to apply less product while still retaining a concealing function for HD film production. The application of an enhancing product outside of its context led to a malfunction and the resulting transparency of a FaceValue strategy.17) Kidman's face turned into a meme.

Kidman at the 2009 premier of Nine


The makeup methods for the production of faces in display space are reversible and only temporary. Makeup can be washed off. Kidman's mishap was (hopefully) a one-time situation, even though her Tony Montana face floats orphaned in viral oblivion. It has become a second face only alive in the display space. Her second face looks different from the face encountered in reality. What if we start adapting our faces to the display space permanently?

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FaceTime Facelift, “a medical procedure developed to improve the way you look while video chatting,”18) was developed by Dr. Robert Sigal in Virginia, USA, in 2012. It is named after Apple's FaceTime video chatting feature for the iPhone 4. Sigal developed the procedure after receiving multiple client's complaints who found their faces reduced in value by the new video chatting technology and the angle at which the web cameras would capture their faces. “I never knew I looked like that! I need to do something!” FaceTime, PhotoBooth, Skype and similar telecommunication technologies, have introduced the immediate confrontation with one's own face in a Michelangelo's David perspective, from down below. The technology adds a narcissistic layer to face-to-face communication by imposing one's own face in the right-hand corner. Apple promises “phone calls like you've never seen before”: the cell phone transforms into a pocket mirror on steroids.

The FaceTime Facelift procedure reduces saggy necks without leaving a scar under the chin as it was previously customary. It combines several different procedures and costs around $6000 to $10,000. In 2011 the number of chin implant procedures grew by 71 per cent in the US, divided equally among men and women 40 and older. Malcolm Z Roth, president of the American Association of Plastic Surgeons, says, “They may notice that their jaw line is not as sharp as they want it to be.”19) According to the 17th century physiognomist Lavater, the chin, through its massiveness, shows people's propensity to defend against or attack others.20) His analysis suggests the chin as the barometer of power in telecommunication. It seems plausible, then, that the constant confrontation with one’s own reflection has sparked an increase in vanity around display-space appearance and optimal FaceValue.

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In contrast to makeup enhancement methods, however, the FaceTime Facelift is a permanent plastic surgery procedure, specifically developed for the display space and the context of video chatting. It is uncertain how the FaceTime Facelift-enhanced face will perform removed from its webcam environment. The face enhanced through the FaceTime Facelift might become the new standard. As the gadgets and thus the context for techno norms become more affordable and mainstream, will the demand for further permanent facial enhancement rise and alter the physical appearance of faces? “Technology is colonizing the human body just as it colonized the body of the Earth.”21) Virilio's forecast of a “prosthetic man” envisions a human body enhanced by technology, a face altered by added function.

Homogenous value

xxx Make-up before and after

xxx Make-up before and after22)

The spaces our faces live in change at the rapid pace of technological advancements. 4k (ultra HD), a super high resolution image, displays more than the human eye can see. Even the most beautiful and smooth skin looks like craters on the moon, a crackly, dried desert landscape, close up. The real is captured in a resolution too high to relate to; special makeup is needed once again to render the new image digestible. In time, Max Factor will be advertising “4K makeup, for that ultra-realistic look”, a cream that once applied will dry up, creating a vulnerable, crackly surface. Permanent plastic alteration as well as temporary design of the face will thus keep on evolving. Will permanent plastic surgery lead to a cascade of alteration and a homogeneous mass of facial appearances? With plastic addiction, will we all look like Orlan, the French carnal artist who has performed multiple plastic surgeries and implants to her body and face?

Plastic Friends

Orlan 2011

Orlan 2009

As we happily send off our physically enhanced faces into digital oblivion, will I encounter my face soon again, asking me for a connection on LinkedIn via email? Will the overpopulation of faces make a meeting of faces possible as if through a time warp? Will the orphaned faces living in the display space become more valuable than our physical faces?

“The security guard wouldn't let me in my moms gates bc he said I didn't look like Kim Kardashian…hmmm” #rude #getglasses @KimKardashian23)

Youtube howto's let you witness the transformation of a girl next door into a Kim Kardashian power product. Not that Kim Kardashian makeup will necessarily look good on the girl, but as an imitation it is valuable.

Kardashian Make-up Tactics

Instead of undergoing a FaceTime Facelift, you can 3d print a custom chin implant on demand at shapeways.com. As we change our outfit day to day, why can't we change our face as well? Can there be face vending machines for on the go? Sephora offers make-up vending machines in American malls, while Japan has a wide array of instant compact shopping malls, including contact lens vending machines. You can purchase a new temporary chin implant down the street during your half-hour lunch break for a temporarily enhanced business face, ready for that important Skype meeting.

Temporary alteration is key to versatility. To paraphrase Steven Shaviro “…forgetting myself, presenting with others' stolen faces: all this is pleasure and liberation.”24) With FaceValue we may steal our own faces for the sake of liberation and flexibility. With FaceValue versatility is power.

4) Emmanuel Lévinas, Philippe Nemo: Ethics and Infinity, Duquesne Univ Pr, 1985: 85-86|http://books.google.nl/books/about/Ethics_and_Infinity.html?id=jvTfAAAAMAAJ&redir_esc=y