Ready for Purim, 3D masks bring Instagram filters to life

The masks are of such a high resolution that they can trick facial recognition technologies.

“Public Interaction: A Printed Mask on my Face” (2019) (photo credit: GUY AON AND YUKI JAMES)
“Public Interaction: A Printed Mask on my Face” (2019)
(photo credit: GUY AON AND YUKI JAMES)
Could the perfect Purim costume be a tridimensional mask that reproduces someone else’s face so accurately it can trick facial-recognition technology?
This is what Israeli photographer Guy Aon aims to offer with his project, “Image: Prêt-à-Porter, a journey between art, technology and the materiality of photography.”
“As a photographer and artist, I was always interested in the human body. Throughout the years, I worked to turn pictures into tridimensional objects,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
Aon said he started to develop the project after he enrolled in a master’s program at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design and began working at a Hebrew University of Jerusalem chemistry lab, where he was exposed to different materials and techniques.
“I discovered PVA, a kind of paper that melts in the water and disappears, and I started asking myself how I could use this system to turn pictures into objects,” Aon said.
His exploration brought him to combine the ancient Japanese painting technique called Suminagashi, or “floating ink,” and modern hydro-print used in the automobile industry.
“I realized that through these techniques I could print the pictures on this special paper, and when I would put them in the water, the only thing that would remain was the ink, which could then be transformed into all kind of objects,” he told the Post.
Using these methods, Aon started creating masks.
“My intention was not just to develop a technique but to challenge the world of photography,” he said. “In modern life, pictures and filters in apps such as Instagram and snapchat have become our way of communicating. We are used to transform our faces and our identity, so I asked myself what would happen if we could change our image and use a filter not only in the virtual world but in real life.”
“This system has allowed me to bring photography back to the material world, turning it into an object or even in a part of our body,” Aon said.
He prints the masks with a high-quality regular printer, he said.
Another application of the technique allows him to print images directly on bodies, in a way similar to temporary tattoos, Aon said. But since “they are printed on paper, while this is just ink directly on the body, it is much healthier,” he said.
After realizing that the masks were so precise they could trick facial-recognition technologies, Aon started to consider implications the system could have in terms of protecting people’s privacy.
“I’m really close to perfection in creating what are basically masks molded out of faces,” he said.
Regarding whether there is a risk of danger, Aon said that could be said for technology in general, including the Internet and social media.
“We have to think about both risks and opportunities,” he said. “But this specific project could also help those in need of protection. Let’s remember what has happened in Hong Kong with protesters under constant surveillance by the Chinese central government. Why couldn’t they wear masks to defend their privacy?” Aon told the Post.
Although his technology is not yet available to the general public, he is working to establish a start-up to improve the technique and turn it into a product that can be used in several sectors, including aesthetic medicine, the makeup industry and fashion.
Aon will be performing and working on his creations in “Wearing Photography,” which will take place on the opening night of the exhibition “Costume Party” on March 5 at the Edmond de Rothschild Center in Tel Aviv.