How to Look at A Person Who Does Not Exist

Note: the displayed image is randomly generated and not reproducable. Therefore, the citation refers to the program used to generate the image rather than the image itself.
Karras et al., This person does not exist, December 2019. Generated with StyleGAN2. Nvidia,

© Copyright 2020 Jackson Cole McAndrew, Ryerson University.

This person is a fake. This image was randomly generated by a program, as opposed to an actual person, whose features are a result of biological processes. Despite this difference, the man in the image could easily be mistaken for flesh and blood. The eyes reflect light as if in a photo studio. Likewise, the folds of skin under the eyes and around the mouth cast shadows on other parts of the face. The skin is detailed in its imperfection, which takes the form of many minor blemishes and wrinkles. On their own these details are insignificant, but together they help build up the charade.

Though it remarkably simulates the appearance of an actual person, the portrait of this nonexistent person suffers from some irregularities. To the left of the left eye is an artifact in the form of a grey blotch. This blotch does not follow the contours of the face, and appears like a drop of paint fallen onto a photo. Another artifact appears on the left side of the forehead. It is similar to a reflection of light off a waxy surface, but has a dark outline that refutes this. The artifact seems to be trying to replicate multiple human features, and in doing so fails to replicate either. Other than biological features, the nonexistent person wears glasses that are warped and incomplete. The wire frame has particularly strange properties: on one side it peters off into nothing, and on the other it fuses into the hair. None of these irregularities stand out at a glance, but on closer inspection reveal that something is not quite right.

Another irregularity appears in the transitional areas of the face. The hair is clearly connected in some areas. Hair follicles can be seen connecting with the scalp where the hair recedes at the top of the head, but on the sides it appears glued on. Rather than having a clear point of origin, hair on the sides of the head sprouts from blurry, ill defined spots. The ears are also sprout from the head at strange angles. These details are less clear than the prior artifacts, as they could just as easily be explained as tricks of photography, and might not reveal the nonexistence of the subject to an observer.

The background of the image is straightforwardly artificial, as it corresponds to no human environment. Portraits that populate social media accounts are typically framed within recognizable places: forests, houses, monuments. In contrast, the blurred grey background could be anywhere or nowhere. Only the obscure off-white backgrounds of passport photos come close to a match. Both the portrait of the nonexistent person and photos for official documentation seek to depict people as clearly recognizable, so the frame is obstructive.

If the aim of this image is to display a person without resorting to a picture of any real human, then it has mostly succeeded. From the light in the eyes to the strands of hair, the portrait is not so different from that of a stranger. It would be simple to suggest to an unaware observer that this person exists somewhere out in the real world. Some irregularities have been noted, but only an observer who knows what to look for would take these artifacts as proof that the person is entirely fake.

Works Cited:

Karras, Taro, et al. This Person Does Not Exist. 2019. Nvidia. [Cited January 31, 2020].

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