“Capturing” a Face: Zach Blas interviewed by Julia Kaganskiy

“Capturing” a Face: Zach Blas interviewed by Julia Kaganskiy


In Mirror with a Memory, eds. Dan Leers, Taylor Fisch, and David B. Olsen, Carnegie Museum of Art.

Mirror with a Memory

Julia Kaganskiy: Let’s start at the beginning. How did you first become interested in biometric surveillance as a subject of research?

Zach Blas: I started to take an interest in biometrics—and facial recognition specifically—around 2009. I came to the technology in an indirect way. I have always had a longstanding interest in the face and queerness. For instance, when I would go to drag shows I would be so struck by the face as a site of transformation. These queer faces spoke to my interest in queerness not only as an identity category but as a practice that pushes against dominant norms and hegemonies. My excitement around queer faces led me down numerous research pathways, and I eventually came upon studies of biometric facial recognition. I immediately viewed it as a queer problem, in that a major goal of the technology is to achieve a global standard for identifying, verifying, and categorizing faces. My first thought was, “This is a uniquely and extremely anti-queer approach to the face that is quickly gaining popularity around the world.” In 2009 my interest in biometrics wasn’t so much about surveillance but rather the ways in which biometrics can reduce the complexities of identity—the ways this technology puts forth a definition of identity as that which can be digitally measured off the surface of a face.