There's a psychological condition called pareidolia. It means seeing faces in the patterns of ordinary objects, like foods that bear the likeness of Jesus. Other famous examples are the "Face on Mars," which made many people think that an alien intelligence had built a huge structure on the red planet.
Now artists have combined the human tendency to find faces with software – a kind of commentary on the ability to see patterns, which humans are very good at. Two projects, one called GoogleFaces from Germany-based Onformative and another from South Korea-based art collective Shinseungback Kimyonghun called Cloud Face use face recognition algorithms to analyze images from Google Maps and other sources to find patterns that resemble human faces. The results are not only beautiful; but thought-provoking.
Onformative founders Julia Laub and Cedric Kiefer from Berlin said in a blog that they developed their "Facetracker" because they wanted to explore "how the psychological phenomenon of Pareidolia could be generated by a machine."
This image shows a part of Russia near the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, an administrative division, the rough equivalent to a county, located near the northeastern Chinese border. The Heilongjiang River marks the bottom part of the "face," while the top of the head is a branch of the much larger Amur River. Both rejoin each other just east of the feature.
A large part of the region is swampland with trees, giving the satellite image the look of an impressionistic painting. The nearest town is a place called Tongjiang, and it is about 180 miles southwest of the Russian city of Khabarovsk. While the oblast was set up as a homeland for Soviet Jews, only a tiny portion of the population is currently Jewish.
This image shows a region of the far eastern side of Russia, about 220 miles from the Siberian town of Srednekolymsk, population 3,500. The features are all formed by local unnamed ridges.
This one comes from the region on the border between China's Gansu and Qinghai province; it can be found near the towns of Linia and Xiahe. The white lines are rivers, evidently frozen. In this area the image shows mountains, and the "eyes" and "mouth" are formed by the shadows. The lack of greenery shows how arid the region is and at this point the altitude is rising as one reaches the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau.
This shows the green hills of the Magadan Oblast, which is on the Sea of Okhotsk. The hills aren't that high -- perhaps a few hundred feet at most. The greenery is likely forest -- much of the region is covered in willow, ash, spruce and larch where it isn't tundra. Zooming out one can see a river valley to the west. Magadan has the distinction of losing more of its population than almost any other Russian region; the population dropped to 150,000 people from 500,000 in 1989, in an area two-thirds as large as Alaska. The town for which the Oblast is named is some 292 miles southwest.
China and Russia are more likely to captured in satellite photographs because they are the biggest countries in Asia. But small nations get their due as well. This image -- reminiscent of a knight in a visor -- is from the southwestern part of England, near the village of Bilsington, in Kent. The city of Folkestone is roughly 14 miles to the east.
The face in this image, taken above Denali State Park in Alaska, resembles a young Abraham Lincoln. The scale of this one is a bit larger than the other photos -- about a mile as opposed to a thousand feet -- and it's visible at a farther zoom-out. The area photographed is just a few miles northwest of state highway 3, about a two-and-a-half hour drive north of Anchorage.
South Korean artists Shin Seung Back and Kim Yong Hun -- known collectively as Shinseungback Kimyonghun -- used images from libraries and other sources for their Cloud Face installation.
The software the two artists use can pick out a "face" in a few seconds, given an image of the sky.
The Cloud Face pictures displayed in an art gallery.