Photo Mosaics That Show Just How Much Internet Reproductions “Lie”


Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg are scientists by trade and artists at heart. They work as the leads of a Google research group in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and are constantly on the lookout for interesting (and artistic) ways to visualize data.

Back in 2011, they came up with an interesting project titled “The Art Of Reproduction,” which shows how digital reproductions of photographs (and paintings) found on the Internet are far from “truthful.”

Basically, the duo took famous artworks, searched the Internet for them, and downloaded all the “plausible copies” they could find. They then wrote up software that took rectangles from each of the copies and used them to reconstruct the original artwork as a mosaic, or “a patchwork quilt where each patch comes from an individual copy.”

The goal of the investigation was to see “how far reproductions stray from each other.” The found that there are indeed big differences between multiple copies of the same photograph uploaded online.

The duo created the first piece at the top using the photograph “D14″ by Man Ray. A quick Google search confirms that there are indeed drastically different versions of this photograph online:


Viégas and Wattenberg also did the same thing with the photograph “Ken Moody and Robert Sherman” by Mapplethorpe:


“Note the slight deviations from pure grayscale,” the duo writes. Through the project, they found that photographs are displayed online with dozens of different palettes, with various crops, with various textures and frames, and different distortions. All of these inaccuracies in reproduction help form a “tapestry of beautiful half-truths.”

Check out the entire The Art Of Reproduction gallery to see this same thing done for a number of other artworks (the two we featured here are the only photography-related ones in the collection, though).

The Art Of Reproduction [HINT.FM via TOP]

Image credits: Photo collages by Fernanda Viégas/Martin Wattenberg/HINT.FM

  • Samcornwell

    Fascinating to see and a great way to present the problem. However, I think they could lose the drop shadows.

  • dikaiosune01

    I think the drop shadows is good. It emphasises the artist’s statement about this project. If the drop shadows were not there, the differences will be much more subtle; thereby taking away from the artist’s purpose.

  • Luc Renambot

    and the JPEG files put on their site do not have a color profile set, so there’s no guarantee we are all seing the same colors!
    Indeed “Reproductions are never perfect. But how much do they lie?”

  • Barry Hayes

    “The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance. Each performance differs in subtle ways.” – Ansel Adams

    In what sense is it a “lie”? Do you think that every print Man Ray made of D14 looks identical? Do you think they should?

  • branden rio

    I think the point is that many of the versions found online are distortions of the artist’s prints. They are a “lie” in the sense that they are not the artist’s pristine work, but have had others make changes to them.