A Graphic Guide to Facebook Portraits

As a new strain of Social Network fever infects the nation, and you finally decide to share your face with the world, get the lay of the virtual land with our own open graph of portrait types.

Everyone is aware of how significantly Facebook has impacted modern technologies such as online communication, information aggregation, and boyfriend stalking. Less noticed, but just as profound, is its influence on art. Just as refinements in mirror crafting led to an increase in self portrait production during the Renaissance, Facebook's steady, unrelenting invasion of every crevice in the civilized world has led to a new renaissance in portraiture, notable for its creation by people who wouldn't know good art if it friend requested them.

These office workers and bored teens have replaced Okies and deranged shut-ins as the ultimate outsider artists; not only do they lack formal artistic training, most lack even the desire to create art. However, with this humble, ad hoc genre a complex visual dialogue has emerged, and its unique vocabulary reveals much about the modern world. Like all art forms, Facebook portraiture has its own lazy tropes—the laptop camera shot, the blue sky background, the blinding flash in a bathroom mirror—but even these thoughtlessly captured snapshots yield unintended insights about their subjects: How is the photo cropped? Can we see the subject's abs? Why is she giving us the finger? (See Portrait Interpretation key below.)

This chart will hopefully help you view specific Facebook portraits within the context of the larger genre, and therefore lead to a richer, more complex appreciation of Facebook portraiture as an emerging form of banal, eye-numbing expression.


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NOTE: Choosing a literal or figurative avatar for your Facebook profile—a cartoon drawing, a famous person you think you look like (but which you don't), a flower, a beach—is a popular option, but since it isn't portraiture in the traditional sense, it is not covered in this chart.

Doogie Horner is the author of Everything Explained Through Flowcharts (Harper Collins, 2010) and Dirty Jokes Every Man Should Know (Quirk, 2009).

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  • Happy Birthday Messages

    Our brain has to use a huge multi-threaded program to analysis this infograph. ;-)

  • umd

    how about long shots and full figure!? but are we expecting every profile a better cropped and composed image in Facebook? am fed of seeing Photoshop abuses :)

  • Ugly American Oz

    What do you have to say about the *thumbnail* images? lol :-)

    For example, my Facebook Portrait looks like Zoom #2.
    My thumbnail image looks like Cropping #1.

    So what does that make me? lol

  • Alisia Muniz

    You can adjust your thumbnail by clicking on the top right corner of your photo on your profile page.

  • Shaymein Ewer

    You seem to be missing the big one that I notice is popular and that's only the user's child. A lot of people use their kids as their Facebook profile. Or does that fall under the NOTE below the chart?

  • Tyler Gray

    Yeah, exactly Shaymein. The catch-all at the bottom covers it. Plus, I find that a little creepy. I mean, won't your kids have a chance to shatter their own privacy as Web-surfing teens? This from a guy whose kid is on FastCompany.com, admittedly.

  • Andy Smith

    Useful and fun to deliver this kind of information in such a playful, accessible way. Understanding the importance of that profile image and having it communicate what you want it to -- or at least not communicate something you don't want it to, is a huge help. Also, I'm a big believer in flow charts. I was hoping that the chart could offer insight as to why some people who put their kid's picture up rather than their own. Never quite grasped the synapses that trigger that choice. Perhaps next time.

  • Michael

    it is the modern equivalent to carrying the kid's photo in the wallet,perhaps?

  • olu adeyemi

    We may be seeing very interesting avarters coming up with this graphic depictions,and most self-conscious art forms reflect the attitude in real life of those who choose them.