Art in the Digital Age: Text Portraits


Ralph Ueltzhoeffer, Anonymity (2009)

Text Portraits is an evolving internet art project by Ralph Ueltzhoeffer and Laura Maria May that explores the ways in which information on the web can be used as art. Early text portraits were exhibited on “location-dependent” billboards. As the project expanded, roughly parallel to the growth of Google, Ueltzhoeffer and May realized greater possibilities for the medium, as well as the cultural implications underpinning their work.

Ralph Ueltzhoeffer and Laura Maria May, Missing (2008)

The information is gathered to create “readable” portraits and exhibited as installations. A current work, Identity, however, was created for the web itself.

Ralph Ueltzhoeffer, Identity (2009)

When you run your cursor over the image, it reveals the text that makes up the image. For example, the text comprising Identity is:

Ralph Ueltzhoeffer, Identity (2009)

Identity makes a statement about the dangers of widespread, freely-available personal data in the digital age.

Ralph Ueltzhoeffer, Event and situation (2009)

Ueltzhoeffer continues to take this project in many new directions, and with the rapidly changing landscape of technology, it seems he will have plenty of signifiers to work with. Here are some of the issues that the Text Portraits project has raised:

The likelihood of faulty information over the internet.

How virtual interaction has replaced face-to-face interaction.

Can the internet itself become art by representing itself?

Abuse of personal data.

In sum, Text Portraits is a radical art project that challenges the notions our society is currently being built on. Everything from the invasive technologies of Facebook to the blurring of online and offline life, demonstrates the need for this project to continue.

Visit the Text Portraits website




  • Hi there,

    I have to say that although this is interesting it is not new 36 years ago when I was 14 I went to an old country house Erdig Hall, Wrexham, North Wales and I was impressed with a picture of queen Victoria that was over a 100 years old the portrait was made with a text that told of her life. A portrait of a person telling her life story was very impressive at 14 and not done by a machine but painstakingly done by hand with a pen and ink. So not only are these images not very new, the idea isn't either plus there are older examples of this type of work none of which where as easy as pressing a few buttons on a computer.

  • I think what makes it so interesting is that data and information is a major part of our cultural landscape. And so the “technique” may be the same (there are very few new techniques, after all), but what changes is culture and its environment: these factors create a web of possible meanings that was not there before.

  • Gareth

    Hi there,

    Without trying to be sarcastic in any way I cannot deny you that because I don't even know you let alone what you think.

    It must have been interesting to me as well, otherwise I wouldn't have looked that's for sure, as for the cultural landscape it must definitely be a considerable part of mine because I was doing the same sort of images in 1997.

    They worked for me as well when I think back and when I think about it again in this context it is a reoccurring theme with a historical past that goes back at least a hundred years, the tools that were used to do it have been the tools available at the time.

    Except now I can use both hand held tools of the past, a pencil, a brush and the modern digital tools of the present that's cool.

    So all that remains to be said is thanks for a great two way experience of interactive mass communication.

    If you want the image I am talking about with my permission to publish it then you have my email from this reaction or the last reaction I made, drop me a line with somewhere to send it.

    Thanks, Gareth.

  • That's what Escape into Life is all about Gareth . . . it's about exposing all kinds of art to a broad audience with the intention of provoking discussion and conversation about those works . . . you can send your images to escapeintolife (AT) yahoo (DOT) com and I'll take a look . . .

  • Vidar

    Something even more interesting is the fact that for your piece titled “Identity (2009)”, you have the text describing identity theft.

    What makes this quite peculiar is the fact that for this piece, the photo you’ve elected to use is not one of your own making. In fact, it’s a rendering of a 3D-model I created well over 4 years ago now.

    So perhaps the next time you open up your dictionary you should look up

    Copyright infringement instead.

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