Monday, 12 May 2014

Rock face

Rock faceI know I shouldn't but I can't help seeing a face in the photo here (right). I spotted it as soon as I saw the photo, though I never noticed at the time of exposure.

For those who can't see it, the face occupies much of the photo. There are two eyes, a stubby nose and a very straight mouth. The person is touching their nose with a finger coming in from the right hand side of the photo.

So why do I find this rather non-naturalistic face so compelling? I find that if I forget it is a photo and see it as a painted portrait it is surprisingly realistic. It is, perhaps, an old man frowning at an artist while scratching his nose. Though it is hardly realistic as a face, the shadows of the left eye, nose and mouth are broadly correct, as are the overall proportions and relative positions of each feature. I have enhanced the effect by deliberately cropping out stuff around the edges that would disturb the face impression. I found that getting just the right crop made a big difference to how well I could see the face. That's a point worth considering when examining anomalous photos - would a wider view radically change the anomalous interpretation of the subject?

Surprisingly, I think it is a form of misperception. Obviously, I don't see a real face. However, I DO see it as a detail from a much larger painting, perhaps with a mythical subject. As with all misperceptions, what people see varies according to their perceptual experience, expectation, lighting and so on. Many people will, no doubt, recognise this as the eroded cliff face it actually is.

People continue to report anomalous faces in photos in huge numbers. I tend not to see most of them. However, I find photos of rock scenery, like this one, rich in face-like objects. In most cases, I'm sure those reporting such things do not see realistic human faces but things more like this example. They may well interpret such objects as 'spirit faces' temporarily imposing themselves on inanimate objects. I say temporarily because the faces are usually not apparent when the photographed objects themselves are examined closely. This is probably because it takes particular lighting, and the correct viewing angle and distance, to reveal the natural features that make up the apparent face.

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