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Mind-Boggling Digital Portrait Uses Video Clips As Paint [Video]

Sergio Albiac’s “videorative portraits” use videos about the subject’s life as digital paint, so that each piece is made of the sitter’s own memories.

Mind-Boggling Digital Portrait Uses Video Clips As Paint [Video]

Good portrait paintings are often said to convey some sort of truth about their sitter. The problem, though, is that portraits are, as a rule, completely superficial. They capture a person’s exterior at a single moment in time, and only from the neck up. There’s a reason experts bicker endlessly over the meaning of the Mona Lisa. All they have to go on is her face.

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Spanish artist Sergio Albiac wants to dig deeper. So he recently created a “videorative portrait”–a dynamic painting in which the face of filmmaker Randall Okita is made up of tagged videos about the subject’s life and work. In doing so, Albiac hoped to “create a new type of portrait,” he says. “One that goes beyond physical appearances and is more realistic, as it renders the founding blocks of the intimate world: your memories, your relationships, and your emotions.”

Albiac started out by collecting personal videos from Okita: clips of friends and family, films he’s made, and so on. Then Okita tagged each video with meanings relevant to the footage (phrases, thoughts, and terms like “isolation” and “love”). After that, Albiac used a custom tool that allowed him to digitally paint with those meanings. It’s “a sort of ‘Portrait of Dorian Gray,'” Albiac says, “but reflecting your memories instead of your sins.” If that’s a tough thing to wrap your head around, just watch the video. It’ll start to make sense.

Of course, letting a subject determine the particulars of his own portrait can be a dangerous thing. People rarely have an honest view of themselves. Imagine if Lucian Freud’s rather, uh, zaftig models got to control their images. They’d probably paint themselves to look like Gisele.

[Each virtual paint stroke corresponds to a different emotion…]

[…and each emotion is connected to a particular video clip.]

Albiac’s solution was to develop an interactive version of the videorative portrait that’s designed to reveal what he calls a “more primal portrait.” It lets viewers open Okita’s video memories, explore his tags, and even generate data visualizations that expose hidden connections between the tags. In effect, you get to peer inside Okita’s mind and see things he can’t even see himself, as if you were his therapist or something. Creepy. But also pretty awesome.

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For more on Albiac’s video portraits, go here.

[Images courtesy of Sergio Albiac]

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About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.

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