Face filters and selfie apps are so compelling because they simulate limitless interest in what we look like.
Last year ended with images flooding Instagram, Twitter and group chats — pictures of us, but not exactly. They were products of an app called Lensa AI, which can apply machine-learning tools to scan your selfies and generate portraits of you in a variety of artistic styles. This sort of thing seems to bea semiannual trend: Every few months, an app emerges to collect photos of your face and manipulate your image, reflecting and refracting it back to you anew. There have been tools allowing you to apply virtual makeup to selfies, to apply “art filters” imitating famous paintings, to morph into an animal. You could age yourself three decades; you could see yourself imagined as another ethnicity; you could swap your gender; you could become thinner, or bald.
Lensa’s process is fairly simple. You upload 10 to 20 selfies and pay a few dollars for a pack of “magic avatars,” selecting a set of artistic styles from a confusing range of options. (These include “Fairy Princess,” “Fantasy,” “Stylish,” “Light,” “Iridescent,” “Anime,” “Pop,” “Cosmic,” “Focus,” “Kawaii” and others.) Then you wait a few minutes for the app to spit its results at you, in a form that resembles trading cards: pictures that feel as though a whole selection of illustrators and commercial artists have spent their time crafting drawings and paintings of you, for movie posters or album covers or animated films about your life. (The technology involved was, after all, originally trained using huge volumes of images pulled from the internet, including real artists’ work.)