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25 June 2011

The Opposite of Prosopagnosia

I was going to write a blog post about the film Incendies tonight. In fact, I started writing one and I'll probably finish it tomorrow. Unfortunately, part-way through, I opened Picasa to look at some of my May Ball photos and made the mistake of clicking on the "people" tab and thus lost the next three hours to metadata perfectionism.

I used to use a basic Adobe photo-viewer program to view, organise and make minor edits on my photos but it came with my antepenultimate laptop and so I lost all of the careful people tagging I had done during my first forays into digital photography when I bought a new computer and started using Picasa. The latter does, however, have some clever face recognition software that you can use to semi-automatically tag faces within your photos. Sometime last year, I came across this and started to use it but although its recognition is pretty good on the easy photos that it initially brings up for your approval (clear, well-lit, in-focus, whole face), once the photos start getting darker and blurrier, it is less good at spotting the faces you've defined. I tagged a few hundred photos of my immediate family and me and then got bored and abandoned it.

But tonight, I took up the challenge again and created tags for another 25 people, representing my best and most frequently photographed friends (and Clive Owen), and went about tagging them at first. The software is quite clever and "learns": as you tag someone in more of the suggested "photos (probably) with a face," it will suggest additional faces that might belong to the person. You can also tell it to ignore faces you don't want to tag, which speeds the process up a little.

I've no idea who the other peeps are

Eventually, though, the software's confidence interval sinks to a level where it stops recommending new photos that might contain specific people and you have to wade through the "untagged photos" section. There were about 6,000 of these when I started but I didn't think it would take quite so long. The list is organised a) in terms of similarity between the mug shots (e.g. the "face in profile" batch) and b) in terms of recognisability of the subject, so towards the end, it got trickier (as you only see a preview of the face without the whole photo, sometimes I had to load the whole photo to see whether it was me or not).

Interestingly, I found that Maman was the second choice for photos of me much more often than anyone else, and vice-versa; the Bro, meanwhile, will probably be horrified to know how often Papa was suggested as the second choice for photos containing him. Go, go, family resemblance... A few scanned photos of the Bro and me as kids were also in my library and Picasa had no problems identifying us.

So now my Flickr metadata is in a comparable state to my iTunes metadata. I found out that I have about 2,483 photos of myself, of which approximately 2,473 are unphotogenic. As a reward, though, Picasa allowed me to create a collage or mosaic containing all, some or fewer of the mugshots of any of the people I had tagged, so here are the 2,483 pictures of me. Extra brownie points if you can spot the ten vaguely photogenic shots.

I'm now wondering whether I should have contacted some prosopagnosia researchers (or those who study super recognisers). Perhaps my hours spent trying to pick out people I a) know and b) want to tag from a seemingly endless and increasingly blurry series of photos, while growing increasingly hungry, tired and bored and with increasing RSI, would have been useful to someone. Either that or I could have got a super recogniser to do the job for me...

Me, Myself and Moi, and Moi, and Moi, and Moi...


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