Vagner Whitehead, "Untitled", 2006, from the series "Persoentage", twenty-four 8x10” inkjet prints

Vagner Whitehead, “Untitled”, 2006, from the series “Persoentage”, twenty-four 8×10” inkjet prints

Vagner Whitehead

While searching for information online about my great-grandparents, I came across a website called This site enables a member to, among other things, find out which celebrity they most physically resemble. By submitting a frontal headshot a user can view their match instantly, through their face recognition software.

For this project I photographed my face with different types of lighting, hairdos, make up, expressions, et cetera, while maintaining my surroundings as neutral as possible. I then uploaded smaller versions of these images into the face recognition software to find out which celebrities resemble the new, manipulated versions of myself.

The celebrity percentage results were then digitally juxtaposed onto the initial image. I also incorporated slogans from the most popular cosmetics companies and alleged quotes by the star matched to me. The multiple connotations of the term “make-up”, such as genetic configuration, invention of something (a quasi lie), and chemical/aesthetic cover up, have become the foundation for this work.

It is my hope that this project critiques, in a humorous way, contemporary perceived notions of race/ethnicity (what it is, how/if it can be defined and modified, who decides them), an increasing reliance on visual and virtual technology for the acquisition of knowledge (the ubiquitous web “researches”), and the ongoing and escalating cult of celebrity in media culture.

But instead of placing myself in the judgment seat (and pointing a finger at the ills of our society) I placed myself at the center of a paradoxical position, and displayed both the desire and the repulsion of wanting to be part of a count.

This work was made possible through an artist workspace residency at the Center for Photography at Woodstock in summer 2006.

Brazilian artist Vagner Whitehead (Ferndale, MI) works with photography, video, performance, installation, hypermedia and digital imaging. His work employs allegorical devices that reframe personal experiences within a transcultural context in order to reframe and subvert notions of fixed identities. He has exhibited his work throughout the U.S., abroad, and online, in solo and group exhibitions, as well as in video and film festivals. He has also been an artist in residency at the Ragdale Foundation (2002). In 2007, his series Persoentage, which produced at CPW, was exhibited for the first time at the Detroit Now 12×12 series at the Museum of New Art (MONA) in Pontiac, MI. Whitehead earned a BFA in photography from The Savannah College of Art and Design in 1995 and an MFA degree from the University of Florida in 2000. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Art at Oakland University, where he heads the New Media department. Whitehead was an Artist-in-Residence at CPW in 2006.