Since we first featured the project "Stranger Visions" by information artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg this February, she and her work—which attempts to create 3-D models of faces using genetic material found in stray hairs around New York City—have gotten attention everywhere from NPR to Slate to the Huffington Post. Most recently, the short documentary "DNA Portrait" by Kari Mulholland (and featured on the blog for TED, where Mulholland works as a video editor) serves as a reminder of the ingenuity of Dewey-Hagborg’s work, providing a 12-minute glimpse of what’s going on inside Dewey-Hagborg’s lab (and mind).
"I just kept seeing hairs everywhere," Dewey-Hagborg says, explaining the project, "and I kept thinking about all these forensic shows that we watch on TV and the fascination we have with that science—the science of trying to figure out from evidence who was there." The camera explores her process, showing how she maps each sample found with its location in the city and her method of running tests on pieces of hair at Brooklyn community biotech lab Genspace, and gives her a chance to talk about the future of the project, which could include an attempt to use information about age to create more realistic models.
"Heather’s work is really interesting because it’s a very accessible way for the public to engage with this new tech," Genspace president Ellen Jorgensen says in the video. "It really brings to light how powerful it is the idea that hair from your head can fall on the street and a perfect stranger can pick it up and know something about you. With DNA sequencing becoming faster and cheaper, this is the world we’re all going to be living in."