What Would Your Ideal Photoshopped Face Look Like?

What Would Your Ideal Photoshopped Face Look Like?

In a series called Original Ideal photographer Scott Chasserot took photos of subjects, made several modifications to the photos to meet standards of beauty and used brainwave scanning tools to see which the subject preferred.

By Joseph Flaherty  

Photographer Scott Chasserot has a degree in psychology, but never had a chance to apply it professionally until a recent project called Original Ideal managed to combine his passion for Freudian analysis and F-stops. His goal was to use Photoshop and brain scans to uncover insights about physical beauty in the modern world.

Chasserot started the experiment by photographing models without makeup, in flat lighting, with neutral facial expressions, to make their faces look as unvarnished as possible. He then retouched the images in increasingly extreme ways. Cheekbones got higher, pupils darkened, eyebrows arched, and lips became fuller to make the models conform to the standard of beauty set by fashion magazines.

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A $499 electroencephalography headset manufactured by Emotiv collected subjects brainwaves.

Modified photos were shown to the models who were outfitted with an electroencephalography (EEG) headset made by Emotiv. He then used Emotiv’s software to track the subject’s interest and excitement, evidenced by the frequency and amplitude of their brainwaves, as they watched their faces transform. Finally, he created a series of diptychs that showed the model’s original portrait next to the portrait that elicited the most positive response. The process verges into the realm of pseudo-science, but Chasserot is upfront about the limitations of the process. “This method can’t give a permanent ideal self image, obviously, but it can start to raise questions about the visual culture we live in and how that affects self image,” he says.

Chasserot took pains to recruit a wide sample of subjects ranging from elementary school children to senior citizens, from a wide range of ethnic and socioeconomic groups. The breadth of the population raises many questions. Do certain groups tend to prefer a specific type of modification? Do women, who are thought to be the recipient of the most distorted body image signals, prefer the most extreme modifications?

The results are inconclusive. Some models responded enthusiastically to these dramatic virtual makeovers while others picked photos that are just slightly different from their original portraits. Chasserot offers no unifying theories to explain the differences in preference. “I had my theories as to what might happen, such as that most people would prefer a version loosely adhering towards the established canons of beauty,” he says. “The aim, however, was not to add to the literature on on preferences along those lines. It was to provoke a reaction in the audience as to what their assumptions are about these complete strangers and their supposed desires.”

Some of the choices are surprising. One woman chose a slightly disheveled portrait as her ideal, a choice Chasserot attributes to a flaw in his approach to photo retouching which was later re-calibrated. Another outlier features a young boy with comically large eyes. “I could only speculate, but it’s true that I would love to prove that the boy preferred huge eyes because he loves manga cartoons. I’ll let you know once I can.”

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Chasserot tweaked his process as the experiment unfolded, a practice that wouldn’t pass IRB review, but ultimately delivered more interesting images.

Staying true to his scientific training, Chasserot is reluctant to make any broad generalizations about the photos. “I would have to do more work, with an improved methodology and a much larger sample size before making any conclusions,” says Chasserot. “This is a pilot study or proof concept for the moment and while it does aim to raise these questions as an art project, it can’t answer them as a scientific study, or at least not yet.”

While the series might not lead to changes in Psych 101 textbooks anytime soon, the experience of seeing neural reactions to the photos has caused Chasserot to reconsider his approach to portraiture. “Spending hundreds of hours making minute changes to each persons’ facial features has made me acutely aware of the faces I see,” he says. “I’ve noticed that whereas I used to step back and try to get the environment in shot to tell the story, now I tend to get closer and focus on lighting features and catching expressions.”

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Chasserot started the experiment by photographing models without makeup, in flat lighting, with neutral facial expressions, to make their faces look as unvarnished as possible. He then retouched the images in increasingly extreme ways.

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Eyes became larger, jaws squarer.

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Modified photos were shown to the models who were outfitted with an electroencephalography (EEG) headset made by Emotiv. He then used Emotiv’s software to track the subject’s interest and excitement as they watched their faces transform.

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With preference data in hand, he created a series of diptychs that showed the model’s original portrait next to the portrait that elicited the most positive response.

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“This method can’t give a permanent ideal self image, obviously, but it can start to raise questions about the visual culture we live in and how that affects self image,” he says.

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The breadth of the population raises many questions. Do certain groups tend to prefer a specific type of modification?

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