Thursday, December 9, 2010

You, too, can be a Usual Suspect

So earlier this week I'd been back in Second Life for all of a couple hours when the ever-vivacious Rach Borkotron IM's me out of the blue and asks, more or less, "So, you wanna pose and have your picture taken?" And, of course, being the sort of girl who's adverse to being identified in public and tends to get all wiggly and put her hands in front of her face (and her fingers up her nose) when someone points a camera at her, I replied "Um, kinda working on a monstrously important earth-saving scripting project right now!" Which had the benefit of being kinda sorta maybe related to the truth a little. Then Rach dropped a notecard on me and said "Read this and let me know what you think, I am posing for her right now."

And once I read the notecard, I kinda dropped everything and TP'd right over.

Gracie Kendal's avatar portrait studio

Gracie Kendal is up to something: she wants to take portraits of 1,000 avatars as part of an ongoing project examining the nature of online identity and anonymity in a virtual face-to-face environment like Second Life. The portraits started off as an illustration of online anonymity with an interesting twist—instead of face-on portraits, the images show the avatars turned away from the viewer, hiding their faces. Although Gracie is now shooting portraits from both the front and the back, it's the ones with the faces turned away that she seems most interested in—and when you see a giant virtual gallery of avatars turned away from you, the idea becomes very evocative.

Gracie writes:

Like many of my other projects, I started out with one idea: to take portraits of avatars facing away from me. That was it, pure and simple. I had the idea that I wanted them to be unrecognizable, their faces hidden, just another level of anonymity in SL vs. RL.


Each portrait represents a different personality, a singular life. Each person has a story to tell, a life to live. Does it matter if we know what these stories are? Does it matter if we know who is on the other side of the computer?

Last I heard, Gracie was up to almost 500 avatar portraits for the project—and you can be one of them! Send an instant message in-world to Gracie Kendal (or get her email address from her blog) if you'd like to participate. Although you can't rez at Gracie's studio—at least, I couldn't—Gracie does encourage you to use any clothing, attachments, poses, and animations you want. I imagine if you're using a dance or something Gracie will need to watch it a bit to get a feel for the movement and good angles, but she's up for that. And very patient!

Gracie plans to show the portraits in a real-life gallery show or in a book—so don't participate if you aren't comfortable with an image of your virtual self perhaps being shown in real life or being published. But at the very least check out the gallery to-date at Gracie's in-world studio—not only do you get a feel for some of the sheer creativity people put into their avatars, but you also get a sense for the humor, attitude, emotion, and expressiveness some people can wring from all these pixels in just a captured moment. And you might see someone (or several someones!) who look familiar.

I know at some level it's silly, but in my gut I feel a project like this can serve as a way to explore and break down barriers between folks who are comfortable with (or at least interested in) the idea of virtual worlds and maybe setting their creativity loose to create whole new identities and personas—which, of course, are ultimately ways of exploring our own real life selves. I know in Second Life terms I'm incredibly boring…but that's part of the dynamic, too.

And yes, if you're wondering, I did get my picture taken. Here's Gracie's front portrait of me: if you want to see the flipside, you'll have to go see for yourself.


  1. OMG Lou!!!!! That so rocks!!!! Thank you so so much :))) Yay!!!! Brought tears to my eyes :)) Couldn't have said it better myself. I love the idea of hearing what others have to say about the project too. It's totally different for me who has been working on it from day 1, so a little removed. But to hear someones first impressions like that...WOW!!! You totally blew me away :))
    Thank you :)))

  2. Oh you lil devil you! Lou, if you hadn,t said I'd never have recognised... such a difference from the first time I saw you at Ross. very cool!

  3. Says the portrait makes me look like a giant. Trust me: anyone who's met me can still pick me out of a gaggle of avatars, even if I'm packing an ES-335!


Comments are moderated. You can use some HTML tags, such as <b>, <i>, <a>. If you'd like to contact me privately, use a blog comment and say you don't want it published.