Apparently he'd commissioned the gentle caveman drawing from a client as payment for some work. And the illustration is successful for the most part. Except for the fact that Pete's taller than I'd expected, thinner, younger, speaks with a British accent (one can't tell this simply from reading him), and had just given himself a mohawk that afternoon, the likeness is unmistakable.
Seeing Pete in person after knowing his face only through pictures really brought home to me the power of images, especially on the web. I know it's a tired truism but I'll say it anyway: Internet identities are incredibly malleable. Whatever image someone wants to project becomes that person, and so online portraits take on added importance above those in the real world where pictures are mediated by a broad range of experience.
It got me wondering about all of my online photo buddies. How well do I really know these people? Sure I know what they look like, or at least what they want me to think they look like. But could I recognize them in real life based on their portraits?
In most cases I think this would prove very easy. In some cases (my own Facebook picture or Nils Jorgensen's, for example) it would be impossible.
The interesting area is the middle ground, Pete's area, in which people project artistic representations of themselves, either drawings or paintings or altered photographs or whatever. With these pictures you may not recognize a person before meeting them. But after that the resemblance seems imperative.
How far can a person's identity can be stretched without losing its essence? Let's put it to the test. Below I've listed Facebook profile pictures for 15 members of the online photo community. Some of these folks were at Photolucida. Some are bloggers. Some are photographers. If you know these people they should look immediately familiar, or should they?
The first person to correctly identify (via email) the most names below before 4/29 wins the usual prize, a handmade print, plus my services drawing your likeness from the portrait of your choice, which you're then free to use on Facebook or somewhere else or not at all.