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This Artist Used a Computer Model of His Face to get a French National ID

“It’s about our relation to the image…and the power of fiction and technology.”

Sarah Emerson

Sarah Emerson

Raphaël Fabre

In America, your driver's license photo will be hideous. Just accept it, because it will be. Bad lighting plus the general awfulness of the DMV equals you looking dumpy.

But in Europe, French artist Raphaël Fabre just proved that if you're clever enough, you too can achieve the perfect ID photo. Like, say, an immaculate 3D rendering of your face.

Fabre successfully applied for a French national ID card on April 7, 2017 using a computer generated 3D photo of himself. According to an update on his website, the Paris-based artist created the portrait using programs and techniques utilized for special effects in movies and video games, such as Blender and TurboSquid, which is a marketplace for 3D objects. He digitally sculpted a human head from what was essentially a cube before retouching the image in 2D.

Image: Raphaël Fabre

"It's about our relation to the image, the limits of the human eye, or its poetic interpretation, and the power of fiction and technology. We are so surrounded by modified, digitalised image of bodies, and basically images of everything, that our world becomes a digital image in a way," Fabre told me in an email.

Fabre provided us with a receipt for the government-issued ID which seemed legitimate, though as his own art piece proves, any digital image can be faked with enough work. ("I also use fake corporate websites, Facebook pages, and email addresses to make the fiction spread," he told me when describing his artwork.)

From a distance, it's pretty uncanny valley. Zoomed in, however, you can see how Fabre's hair and eyes are clearly digitally rendered. The leather on his jacket is close, but something's not quite right. Still, the overall result is impressive.

"It's funny because there were a lot of different versions of myself, that were extremely different and weird, off just slightly but bizarre. I must have made 50 different versions of weird, deformed 3D lookalikes before I could reach a believable result," Fabre said.

Image: Raphaël Fabre

France's rules for acquiring a national ID card are considerably more lax than America's. Instead of getting your photo taken at the DMV (or their version of one), residents are allowed to produce their own portraits, so long as they comply with a list of parameters. Sort of like getting an American passport. Photos must be clear and against a plain background. The size of the applicant's face should be approximately 32 to 36 millimeters.

As Fabre notes, his 3D portrait adheres to all of these requirements. The irony, he wrote, is that the card which validates his French identity "in the most official way" is also "a picture of me which is practically virtual" or "fiction."

Fabre's clever stunt reinforces what we already know: with technologies that can fabricate our voice and even what we say on camera, we're speeding towards a world where it's increasingly difficult to tell what is real and what is fake.