What did Tyrion Lannister look like before he was played by Peter Dinklage? Who was Hermione Granger before being cast by Emma Watson? I don’t remember. Whatever mental images I had for these beloved characters was washed away by corporeal faces.
Not only can I not get their pictures back; I’m not sure that I ever really had them in the first place. If I could draw–which I can’t–could I have sketched their ethereal profiles? Did I know the specific locations of Tyrion’s moles or the precise curvature of Hermione’s nose?
The Composites is a Tumblr blog and art project by Brian Joseph Davis that proposes what various literary characters look like. But rather than stemming entirely from his own imagination, these characters are profiled with a pseudo-objectivity through forensic software program Faces ID. He reads a character’s descriptive passage in a book, then he uses the software to assemble their face from the 10,000 available noses, eyes, ears, and mouths.
“I like technology not considered art,” Davis tells Co.Design. “And after discovering there was publicly available software, I thought this could be something that explored the similarities between a witness’s memories and its gaps, and the writer and the readers’ limitations and gaps.”
Literature is a medium that’s known to be a stepping-off point for the imagination, and The Composites gleefully teases that fact, challenging the nature of imagination in the face of hard evidence.
His images are also intriguing because of a tacit criminal element. Much like the context of a mugshot, when a character is sketched in a dead-eyed forensic profile, you can’t avoid asking yourself: What did they do wrong? “Well the truth is, there is a constraint to the characters that I chose,” admits Davis. “Each one has a touch of criminality. Even Daisy Buchanan committed a hit and run against a member of the 99 percent.”
Daisy Buchanan also broke Gatsby’s heart, which I’ve always considered a crime unto itself.
Click here to visit Davis’s Tumblr.