A portrait of you from a single hair: The work of Heather Dewey-Hagborg

Posted by: Helen Walters

The video “DNA Portrait,” above, is a lovely short documentary shot by TED’s own Kari Mulholland. It features the work of the artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg, who spent time collecting hairs shed in public spaces… and then sequencing the DNA therein to print 3D sculptures of what those hairs’ owners might look like. Whoa. The film is also the secret story of the lab run by TEDGlobal 2012 speaker Ellen Jorgensen. At Genspace, people can experiment with DNA-based technology, regardless of their scientific knowledge or experience. As Jorgensen comments in the film, Dewey-Hagborg’s work is super interesting, not to mention searingly contemporary. “It’s a very accessible way for the public to engage with this new technology. It really brings to light how powerful it is, the idea that a hair from your head can fall on your street and a perfect stranger can pick it up and know something about it,” she says, adding: “With DNA sequencing becoming faster and cheaper, this is the world we’re all going to be living in.”

Comments (31)

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  • commented on Jun 26 2013

    Reblogged this on Mahou Josei in the Real World and commented:
    An interesting mini-documentary about trying to recreate a 3D sculpture of a person’s face from a single strand of hair. Like a lot of work with DNA, there are many unknowns (for example, when she’s looking at the data, she’s citing the percentage chance that the person has a certain eye color). Nevertheless, it’s very intriguing (and perhaps a bit unnerving?) where this could lead. Also features the Genspace lab, a genetics lab focussed on connecting the public with biology and genetics.

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  • Grace T commented on Jun 25 2013

    I have no doubt about the power of new technology, but what i want to discuss is if it’s right when we leave something personal behind in public and someone takes it to do whatever they want with it?

    • commented on Jun 26 2013

      Leaving something personal behind……Well then, yes it would be an invasion of ones privacy. On the other hand finding chewing gum or cigarette ends on the street that a person disposed of with a blatant disregard for their environment (and which in most places is illegal)and printing their face…….. I’m all for that! The potential to use this technology for good is huge but like most useful ideas it will be patented and hidden away only to be used for money making purposes.

  • Pingback: Be careful what you leave behind: Portriats generated from people’s hair, saliva, and skin cells | TEDFellows Blog

  • commented on Jun 25 2013

    My question is … has she matched the 3d model to the actual person whom she already knew. Just to see how closely they resemble together. Proof should be in the pudding then.

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  • commented on Jun 24 2013

    It’s amazing how fast technology, science, and art are merging together

  • commented on Jun 24 2013

    That can really help solve crimes faster. Wow. That is a little scary but more amazing!

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  • commented on Jun 24 2013

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  • commented on Jun 22 2013

    Reblogged this on Creative Designs.

  • commented on Jun 21 2013

    Reblogged this on adityaaman's blog.

  • Angelica Sosa commented on Jun 20 2013

    SO INTRIGUED…and a little scared! As an artist, I appreciate the wonderment that got her to this project. As someone who seeks to learn everything there is to learn about everything, I appreciate her tenacity! Admiration abounds!

  • commented on Jun 20 2013

    Reblogged this on Words By Axel and commented:
    Might not be a great time to commit a crime. All they need to do is get a fingerprint (or any skin cell[s]), hair strand, saliva, or any body secretions and a clone of your appearance can be made. wow. Mind=Blown.

  • commented on Jun 20 2013


  • commented on Jun 20 2013

    Reblogged this on Myaz_Nuggetz.