When I was little, I saw faces everywhere. In the patterns of carpets and curtains, in the trunks of cherry trees. In our windows, where the stained glass panels watched us with jewelled eyes.
Cars had faces too, and could look cheerful or cross. Our old Triumph Dolomite had a squinty grin. Faces were always emerging from the woodwork. My Nanna’s wardrobe, the one that survived the blitz, was made of glossy walnut, with knots and whorls that made sad eyes and a sighing mouth.
Looking back, most of the faces I spotted came from the total bonkerness of 1980s interiors. Patterns chased each other all over our house. And the carpets. Cat-sick splurges of beige, rust and brown. In one patch, I saw a tribal chief with a feather headdress, and another, a gurning witch.
Seeing faces everywhere, I loved picturing the faces of the people I met in stories. And trying to draw them just felt right. Even now, with an idle biro in hand, before I realise it, I’ve doodled a face.
But aren’t we all drawn to faces? Aren’t we all hungry for them?
It’s what keeps us huddled around the glow of our phones into the small hours. Apparently, we upload about 1.8 billion photos to social media everyday. Of course there’ll be all the landscapes, and pictures of people’s food. But I’m betting those uploads are mainly mugshots.
I missed out on Facebook at university (just, ok?). I’m sure if we’d had it, the sales of the college Sports Teams Calendar 2003 would’ve been hit hard. Back then, images of faces were harder to come by, especially those faces you might have, you know, sort of, really liked to look at.
Now, we swipe through so many images on our touchscreens, they’re becoming throwaway. Definitely for Snapchatters. And we can curate them ourselves. How many hours are spent gazing at our own faces, refining the life we’re projecting, #nofilter?
I’m fascinated by the ‘what if?’ that hangs over our digital lives. What if the energy crisis hits, what if the plug is pulled? Where will it all go?
As someone who loves to draw faces, I could try and argue that a good illustration is better than another beautyface selfie. More durable. But although it takes more skill, and tries to capture the feeling, the story, behind the features, a drawing still falls short.
The best, most beautiful faces are the ones no image can capture, the faces before us when we close our eyes at night. The ones that you see clearest with your heart.
Should the lights go out, and the Cloud evaporate forever, those faces will still be there.