PetaPixel did a study (Zhang, 2015) about how one man was represented by 6 different photographers. Each professional photographer was told something unique about the man's occupation; to one photographer, he was a fisherman, to another he had saved someone's life and to a third he was a successful millionaire. All these characteristics were false, but the photographers were told to represent the man the best they could in their photo.
This study reveals two important aspects of representing people; firstly, it shows how the character of a person can be used to represent them through the angle, distance, expression and setting of the photo and, secondly, it shows how people perceive each other based off the information available to them.
The following study takes certain aspects of people and represents them using technology and design mediums. There are three different levels of perception to each representation; by collecting the data or discussing the work with the person, they are deciding what part of themselves they would like to reveal which might influence their representations, then there is the perception of myself as the compiler of this information into different forms of representation, and finally there is the audience who see the final representation and decides what that means about the person.
What each visualisation might reveal about the volunteer is omitted, allowing the viewer to create their own judgments. Therefore, before trying to understand the visualisations which follow, it may be helpful to go through analysing two representations of the same person in different media; data visualisation of Leonard Cohen based off Google search trends and a sketched self-portrait by Leonard Cohen.
The data visualisations above allow the viewer to make some assumptions about Leonard Cohen with little previous context. For example, the small rises in Graph 1. might represent the release of a new single, while the steep peak from a few months ago has an amplitude so much greater than the previous peaks, that it is rational to assume that it represents a more significant life event.
Figure 2. can tell us something of the singer/songwriter's heritage. He is most popular in Ireland, Canada and Israel. There are a number of ways to read into this data, however the most obvious would be to assume that Ireland is his home country, he happens to be extremely popular in Canada, and his Jewish name means that his popularity in Israel may be due to his religion. However, this is not all true. Leonard Cohen was originally Canadian. In this case, as a viewer with context, I am able to see how this visualisation represents a piece of misleading information.
This self-portrait is a representation of how the artist views a part of himself. The work is made out of many harsh lines, where the outline of the face is as emphasised as the bags under his eyes and the wrinkles around his nose. These features, which represent age and fatigue, can give the viewer a clue to the emotional state of the person. The lines also distort the figure as they pull the face downwards. This adds to the heaviness of the gaze in the figure's right eye. The text on the drawing; "just one little guy, with an old tweed cap, against the whole stinking universe", supports the idea of the artist's hopeless mood.
There is one assumption that can be drawn from both visualisations; Leonard Cohen is Jewish. In both visualisations, the combination of knowing the artist's name, as well as the data about Israel, or the small sketch of a Star of David, affirm this inference. However, the visualisations also provide information on very different aspects of Leonard Cohen; by looking at his popularity over time, versus, his own personal and emotional representation. In this way, it is possible to see how representations emphasise only certain aspects of someone's character.
The representations above are filled with different connotations that can be extended endlessly by any observer. It may be that an analysis of the visualisation reads into it more than the data shows (such as with the analysis of Figure 1.) or the artist intended, but that is also the interesting emergent property of any visualisation where the symbolism and information that creates it, is not always the symbolism of the end product to every observer. For this reason, the visualisations of people that follow, will be, and should be, interpreted differently by each viewer.
Ivana Gruevska, Liberty Pim and Oren Dar