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The question I posed in my recent photographic experiment was this: “I'm interested to know what you perceive in this self-portrait. Most specifically, what do you believe is the emotion that I'm expressing? Kind, unkind? Hostile, friendly? If I were saying a very short sentence, what do you imagine it would be?”

Thirty three responses (read more) tell me this isn’t as simple a subject as I first believed.

My purpose was to focus on a thought and see if an image of my facial expression would more or less convey the same thought to others. As I clicked the shutter, a woman very dear to me named Brad was in my mind, and I was whispering to her, “I love you.” (She died about four years ago.)

As the responses came in, I was surprised to see that they were entirely more centered on my perceived character than on what I might have been thinking. And I should quickly add that most of them were exactly right, which proves the notion that a photographic portrait can be enormously revealing. It can also mean that people’s perceptions are acutely sensitive and can read the most subtle of clues in another’s face, which is a genetic thing that comes down from verrrry ancient times.

Some further random thoughts:

One suggested that the experiment was similar to a Russian director’s work with actors being trained to express different emotions by thinking of things that provoke them.

Well, I had this partly in mind when I set up the experiment. I see from the great range of responses, however, that actors’ tasks are much more difficult than I’d thought. Which is to say that these folks have spent much time and effort honing their ability to display various emotions with a conscious manipulation of their facial expressions, and they make it seem effortless.

Another way of putting this is that I have no formal training in consciously making my face match either what I’m thinking or feeling, or what I want others to think I am. I’ve never been a good liar. (Sociopaths, on the other hand, are geniuses at lying and acting, largely because they have no conscience and therefore no shame or guilt.)

And finally, I’m starting to think that it’s much easier to show anger, impatience, boredom, etc., than to clearly display the various forms of love. But then that might be because the most important visual clues our ancient cave-dwelling ancestors looked for was hostile intent, because that was a life or death matter.




lizlips
so I often get a chance to read your comments to him and see your entries.

If I may, I'd like to comment on the picture, too, having only skimmed the above...

You look like a man with a thousand stories in your eyes; one whose life has embodied Coelho's character in "The Alchemist" and who has allowed a personal legend to take shape and manifest itself thoughout your years. Your face is wizen; you've done your share of living outdoors and appreciating the slendor of this environment. You wax senitmental about these times in your life. You have experienced intense pain and intense love in equal measure. You are a survivor who is resourceful in regards to gleaning whatever you may need out of your environment even in the most harrowing moments. In situations which call on your survival skills, you are unflappable perfering to think of the experience as a glorious challenge instead of a stumbling block to hapiness.

It's a cool picture...

kickadee
To me you look wary and expectant, like whoever is in front of you (me--the viewer of the picture) is about to tell you something). But then since I read your question before the picture loaded--I guess it would make sense for me to perceive it that way!

Open and friendly, maybe a little tired and vulnerable (but then I feel vulnerable when I post pictures, so it could be more projection). You also make me think of portrayals of Jesus! ;)

[Bad username: ginger931]
Distant but benevolent.

"Where are you bound?"

[Bad username: marieofroumania]
You have the most amazingly-colored eyes. Beautiful, rainbow eyes.

As for your picture itself, you look proud, but that could just be the angle of the camera. Succinct, but friendly.

If I could imagine you saying anything from that picture: I just went back and looked. Can't imagine you saying anything. You look... quiet, I guess.

rubylou
Questioning, compassionate, but perhaps...a bit distant? Your eyes are exquisite, if you don't mind my forwardness

malathion
Disappointment.

karamazov
It's as though I'm embarking on a journey you wish you could have taken, but the way circumstance fell did not suit your hopes. Yet now it seems as though you hope I can prosper where you didn't have the opportunity. Still, you fear that what could have hurt you may get the best of me yet.

"I wish you well, with great caution and hope."

amberite
Sad, perhaps puzzled, ill-at-ease. "What tribulation, for the worms."

volsi
This seems a bit like that experiment done by a russian director... I cannot remember his name. However, he had a shot of an actor looking at something, and then he'd put in soup or a coffin, etc. People would then say he was hungry, mournful, etc respectfully.

Continuing with this; our replies to what we perceive your emotions to be more closely reflect our emotions than yours.

Or not.

In any case, it seems like you could be saying "Are you alright?"

My own feelings at the moment are largely those of contentment.

erleichda
You seem a bit angry and hurt but not aggressive. Mainly you seem confused- as if you have just said, "Hey, what'd you do that for, man?"

djblax
With the sun, the sky the greenery around, with your eyebrows relaxed and the fact that we're close suggests nothing to fear.

When you only have a single image to determine, all of those other factors. like lighting, come into play. Perception says you wouldn't be angry on a blue sky day. Also, what's that bubble on the right of the frame? Is it a massive structure? A child's balloon?

If I was forced to make an honest guess, I would say you are in love with the photographer.

alexgal
a sage bemused.

avenescent
this
is the face
of enlightenment,
the face of an enlightened master,

in a mirror,
with hollow mouth
speaking ever so gently,
"this is one of the most beautiful faces i've ever seen."

marius
i can't tell if it is a confidence look, as in a look that you are asserting confidence in the person you are facing, or if it is disappointment. It's a perplexed certainty, that's what I see.

statement wise, I see: "That'll do..." or "I trust you." in a confident tone. whether it's a forced confidence or not, I don't know.

majorweather
Contemplative, curious, perhaps a little troubled.

chaizzilla
tbe un-expression? you look like you pretty much have your mind on taking the picture. it looks overly bright where you are, but there's no sign that that's bothering you. are you naked? if the picture were a sentence, it would be, i'm taking a self portrait w/my arms splayed in front of me to try and get the camera far enough away & pointing in the right direction. i could be projecting, that's how mine look.

traceyleigh
I think you would be saying "I'm tired. The day has been long and hot and I've had too much sun".

ravenfeather
Mildly confused about what you see, and trying to make sense of it.

malathion
This picture is a rorschach test.

[Bad username: flying blind]
A bit sad, disappointed, but resigned.

"Of course, I understand that you could do nothing else."

vendi
Resignation -- this has the look of someone who's given up on something.

melodylingers
Calm. Peaceful. Relaxed. Taking a pause from watching your surroundings just long enough to look into the camera.

daisydumont
I am facing life with all the dignity and wisdom acquired over my years. (i would hope to be able to say the same, but dignity doesn't come naturally to me!)

[Bad username: another ache]
You look like you have seen and heard many more things than the average person, and you are not wrapped up in yourself though wary of what the future could hold for you. You look kind, but distant.

nickelchief
It's as if you're confronting a friend or lover who's just betrayed you, or you've just realized your child has been lying.

The angle at which the picture is taken -- looking upwards, your face against the sky -- almost suggests the fury of an angry God, looking down on Adam and Eve before expelling them from Eden.

Is that over the top? The beard and flowing hair *is* a little Biblical.

kazatasupa
i would say a slightly puzzled, caught off guard disappointment.

evilkitty21
THe look on your face seems like a natural expression for you. Nothing forced or uncomfortable. I like gray hair, it comes with age, which comes with wisdom and knowledge. You have been out in the sun a lot. That could mean you like nature or you just happen to spend a lot of time out in it. I would feel comfortable speaking with you. You do not radiate something uncomfortable.

terminusvox
You seem to be perplexed. Not baffled mind you but mildy confused as to the exact state of events. I imagine if you were saying something it would be, "what's going on?"

waitsfortherain
Perplexed, all right.

"How can illusion drag us all so easily?"

niyabinghi
You're wearing an expression of wonderment...wondering whether you have the camera centering your face properly, lolol. And darn you have a nice tan and I'm so jealous.!

agntprovocateur
my six year old says you look slike gandalf the great!

i say you look weary. as if you are expecting something other than what you know. yet you know you are more than likely right. weary of the world? of it's needs for the material.

plinko
The picture very much reminds me of one of a close-up on one of those little Saint cards that the Catholic kids carried around. You seem quite luminous. A word-warrior sage.

planetaterra
the expression of the mouth can be hostile and also a verbelisation of a short frase.

georgiamagnolia
What a very interesting.... request.

I have to say that I rather like the photo you have for your ID, I find the vulnerability in your expression appealing and approachable. This new self portrait is more... well... it is really hard to express pauses to think in the written word on screen. The self portrait shows a much more self possessed individual, someone who has earned his own opinions and viewpoints. Someone who may have advice, if one were brave enough to ask, but I realize my interpretation is coloured by my own outlooks.

I hear you saying what my writing mentor and friend Pol used to say to me, "Off you go, then." But again, maybe I colour it all with my own longing.

It is a nice picture, and maybe an honest picture, but the other holds more appeal for me for the mysteries in your eyes there. Perhaps there are no more mysteries now, and I would hate to think that of you.

I am sorry, I know you didn't ask for a compare and contrast.

Hope the island is lovely for upcoming Beltane.

Magnolia
S3

xoexohexox
sorry i missed the boat on this one, my entry was going to be "gentle reproach"

[Bad username: angel]
prepared, just waiting for what's to come, but not scared of it.



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sorry i missed the boat on this one, my entry was going to be "gentle reproach"

I added yours, so you haven't missed the boat! Thanks.

So I WAS right! At least, I got the sentiment you were evoking. I just phrased it in an incorrect way. I think I was closest to the pin on this one. Right?

at the resolution I can read from a comfortable distance, stopped at the second paragraph, so I did as you requested:

Dismayed at the action of the other in front of you -- "Why are you kneeling before me? You shouldn't do that."

Then I read the rest, LOL! Very interesting.

Boy, was I off! Subtle facial expressions are difficult for me to read, however.

hi you're on my bf's friend page...

so I often get a chance to read your comments to him and see your entries.

If I may, I'd like to comment on the picture, too, having only skimmed the above...

You look like a man with a thousand stories in your eyes; one whose life has embodied Coelho's character in "The Alchemist" and who has allowed a personal legend to take shape and manifest itself thoughout your years. Your face is wizen; you've done your share of living outdoors and appreciating the slendor of this environment. You wax senitmental about these times in your life. You have experienced intense pain and intense love in equal measure. You are a survivor who is resourceful in regards to gleaning whatever you may need out of your environment even in the most harrowing moments. In situations which call on your survival skills, you are unflappable perfering to think of the experience as a glorious challenge instead of a stumbling block to hapiness.

It's a cool picture...

Re: hi you're on my bf's friend page...

P.S. I knew nothing of you before I wrote that... I'd only seen you in passing (i.e I'd never looked at your journal on an individual basis). It was very interesting in restrospect to look at your info page:)

I'm late to the party but I saw determined yet sad resignation. A kind of steeling yourself up emotionally. The words "Do what you must." came to mind.

Sorry, I missed the experimental post. So whatever I say is not good for science. But before reading explanation to the picture, I was touched by the openness, profoundness and serenity of your face. You do not see a lot of people wearing this expression. And I would not notice any hostility in it even if you said you whispered hateful words to an enemy. What you were actually saying is the most becoming.

As always, I deeply appreciate your kind & generous comments...

I missed the earlier phase also... I was surprised by your explanation because to me, in that picture you seem to be clearliy wondering "who are you" or searching the face of another.

Why

(Anonymous)
You are asking 'why' was my immediate impression (I have not had time to read the replies). I read further and saw you meant to say 'I love you', which I do not see. Perhaps it is because the beloved is not in proximity, the 'I love you' is an imitation of emotion because you are thinking about how you would react instead of actually, physically reacting. I think it shows more sadness that your beloved is not here.

Marlene Mason

Interesting analysis. But I think all this shows, at least in part, the impossibility of ever knowing for sure what is in another's mind. The literary term "intentional fallacy" holds that any judgment as to a writer's intent cannot ever be legitimate, largely because such intent is unknowable.

Add to this what I said earlier:

Another way of putting this is that I have no formal training in consciously making my face match either what I’m thinking or feeling, or what I want others to think I am. I’ve never been a good liar. (Sociopaths, on the other hand, are geniuses at lying and acting, largely because they have no conscience and therefore no shame or guilt.)

Intent and curious. Why is the person photographing me?

Susan

I have to say, this is one of the most interesting entries I've read in a while. I wish I had read the question before the answer.

would you take the picture again, holding the camera a little higher? now that i know the answer, the photo easily looks like what you said, but the sense of the person in the photo looking down a little bit w/o bending their head to look into a camera that's a little low is stronger :)

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