East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai



0966b1ee5915ce28f719351792d175f1OK, time for a little personal pet peeve.
I know, you don’t come here to hear me peeving pets or other, but bear with me for a moment.

It all started with yesterday’s writing prompt.
Did you get that?
The photo is here again on the right.
Beautiful photograph by the way.

So, what happened…
The moment I decided i wanted to do some character exercise using photos1, I took the obvious choice.
I went to Pinterest and wrote Portrait in the search window.

What I got is shown here.


You can enlarge the picture by clicking it, but it’s not so important.
Even this small, you get the idea – ample selection of portraits, both in b/w and color, both famous people and unknowns, both male and female. There’s also a tutorial about lighting for photographic portraits.
The variety and sort of random selection, by the way, is why I like Pinterest as a writing aid.

Pinterest offers me an option to filter my results by adding further keywords. The list of keywords includes Photography, Painting, Drawing, Self, Poses, Lighting, Ideas, Male, Female, Inspiration, Sexy, Men, etc … I guess these are based on the most featured tags in Pinterest, and/or the most frequent searches.

So, yesterday I wanted to do some female character study, and therefore I added the Female filter.
Here’s the result.


Once again we get a tutorial infographic, a painting, some pretty interesting photographic manipulations and… do you see it?

5314db0fa37beff957ebc6e29a368b39If you don’t, I’ll point it out – a single old woman.
And while we get a modicum of ethnic diversity – it gets better scrolling down the search results page – one factor seems to be sorely missing from this Portrait, Female search on Pinterest.
Middle age.
The faces offered are beautiful, mind you, but absolutely polished.
We get an ample choice of make-up styles, hairdos, ethnicity… we get freckles, moles, beauty marks, piercings and the occasional tattoo.
But we do not get any wrinkle.

Unless we look for well-over-70-year-old faces.
In that case we get a fair selection of old lined faces, often in stark black and white, very dramatic, very beautiful.
But in between there’s nothing – except the occasional middle-aged woman with polished skin that looks like alabaster, and not even an expression line on her immaculate face.

Now, this probably comes from the fact that I am getting old myself, but this makes me somewhat uneasy.
The next step (which distracts me from my decision to do some character study), is asking myself, is it the same for men?
Because that’s another obvious question, right?
Well, it turns out that by searching Portrait, Male I get this…


And yes, there’s a little more scruffy, second-hand looking guys in the picture than in the ladies’ version.
Grey hair, wrinkles, unshaven chins.
But the old guys are famous people – Richard Gere, Mel Gibson, Ed Harris
There’s an absolutely great old Chinese man laughing – but he’s the equivalent of the single old woman in the other search.
The average unknown male portrait on Pinterest is twenty-something, with a five o’clock shade.

Looks like I’ll have to go and search for my character photos elsewhere, right?
Or at least know that Pinterest, when it comes to people faces, wants me to be more subtle and persistent in my searches2.
And I don’t mean this in any profound sociological way, mind you – basically I am looking for portraits, for faces, observing which I may be able to imagine a personality, a personal history, a story.
And indeed, I can imagine stories behind all those wonderful, smooth-skinned young women, and those scruffy young men.
But there’s a lot of people out there, and a lot of them are not smooth-skinned young women or scruffy young men.

  1. because remember, I live in the middle of nowhere, I could only do character exercise based on the observation of stray cats and hedgehogs – good if you are writing children’s fiction, but not so useful otherwise… 
  2. you get beautiful, expressive, real middle-aged faces, wrinkles and all, by searching, for instance, for Older Women… and I wonder – older than what? 

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “Faces

  1. Middle-age… the land of nowhere


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.