Stunning Portraits of Writers and Musicians Made From Their Own Words

Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 20 2013 1:48 PM

Stunning Portraits of Writers and Musicians Made From Their Own Words

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Madonna

Juan Osborne

Language is a tissue of dead metaphors,” wrote Northrop Frye, Sheridan Baker, and George Perkins in The Harper Handbook to Literature. And—apologies to those three gentlemen—sometimes it can even be made to resemble literal tissue. Since 2009, the Spanish artist and architect Juan Osborne has used a complex computer program he designed to craft portraits of famous figures, such as Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, Sigmund Freud, and more. These headshots are literally composed of text: up to 200,000 words of different colors and lengths and heights. Osborne sifted digitally through each of his subject’s oeuvres to figure out which words they used most frequently, uploaded them to his computer program, and spread them one by one across a background image. Osborne gave us permission to share a few of our favorites here on Brow Beat. Check out the go-to terms for Dickens (“Oliver,” “replied,” “bumble”), Christie (“Mrs.,” “Poirot,” “murder”), and Sigmund Freud (“civilization,” “justice”) below, and the words most frequently used by a contemporary cultural eminence, Madonna (“love,” “know,” “get”), above. To get a better look at the words, you can click the images to see much bigger versions.

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Sigmund Freud

Juan Osborne

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Agatha Christie

Juan Osborne

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Charles Dickens

Juan Osborne

Katy Waldman is a Slate assistant editor. Follow her on Twitter.