Look closely at the cover image.
Now this one:
And finally this one:
Georgian artist Irakli Nadar makes hyper-real digital portraits from photographs of models and celebrities.
“Hyperrealism” is a genre of art distinguished by its level of detail. The name was meant to distinguish it from the earlier genre of “photorealism,” which was born in the days before high-definition photography. But hyperrealism can also mean more than “high definition.” It can mean something that is “more than real.”
How is that possible? How can an image be “more human than human?” Because of our biology.
Most people know that baby birds “imprint” on a parent figure. After they are born, they find in their surroundings that which most resembles a parent in appearance or action and treat it as such.
This means they’re born with an innate sense of what a parent looks and acts like. Scientists have discovered that what is coded for in their DNA (and then in the animal’s nervous system) is not, in the case of ducklings, a photorealistic image of an adult duck. Rather, it is an abstract ducklike form.
For centuries, farmers in China have been exploiting this fact to recruit ducklings to their rice fields, where they help control the snail population. The farmers use a specially-shaped flattened stick which, to ducklings, looks like a parent, and they will follow it.
Scientists have reproduced this in the lab. And in fact, through experimentation, they have been able to create a shaped and colored stick that so exactly matches the innate image in the ducklings’ head that they will imprint on the stick over their actual parents when both are present.
In other words, to the ducklings, the shaped colored stick is more “parental” than their parents. It is more real than real. It is hyperreal.
Nor are birds the only animals that have this special period of imprinting. Mammals do as well, which includes humans. Psychologists have found we carry all kinds of innate impressions in fact. People all over the world tend to rate a face more beautiful, for example, if it has a high degree of bilateral symmetry.
Culture and individual taste can alter or amend these innate impressions of course, but they are there. What’s interesting about Nadar’s pictures, then, is not the level of detail or how well they match the photographs from which they were taken, but the manner and ways in which they are different, in which they are hyperreal, in which they more closely match our innate impressions of beauty.
If you found the woman in the cover image stunning, contrast Nadar’s hyperreal image with the original. Note the emphasis of the eyes, the de-emphasis of the nose, the rounding of the lips, the larger forehead, the unblemished skin, etc.
This is of course what the advertising industry exploits when, for example, they extend a model’s legs in Photoshop to unreal proportions and the result is more appealing — more “real” than reality.
This is not new, by the way. The ancient Greeks were masters. Nor did it only apply to women (although they do take the brunt of it in the modern era). The warrior below, while seemingly realistic, has been exaggerated in subtle ways. His trunk is elongated, giving a sense of power; the vertical grooves in his chest and back, which create contrast, are impossibly deep and long; the muscles of his groin are engorged and extend over the hip; etc.
The Greeks wanted their gods and goddesses to be superhuman — more than real — just as we do. Chris Hemsworth was always conventionally attractive of course, but he looked considerably different as an Australian daytime TV star (already a high standard) than as the god of thunder.
It matters because we are entering a time when the hyperreal will exit the world of forms, of art and imagery, and collide with the merely real.
The image above is by Evan Lee. More below by Nadar: