Portraits of Imaginary People

Mike Tyka studied Biochemistry and Biotechnology at the University of Bristol. He obtained his PhD in Biophysics in 2007 and went on to work as a research fellow at the University of Washington and has been studying the structure and dynamics of protein molecules. Since 2015 he has also begun working with artificial neural networks as an artistic medium and tool. His latest generative portraits series “Portraits of Imaginary People” has been shown at ARS Electronica in Linz, OutOfSight 2017 and at the New Musueum in Karuizawa, Japan. Mike currently works on machine learning at Google in Seattle.

Mike Tyka: I see you. Archival print, 20″x 20″, 2017

The series, titled “Portraits of Imaginary People” explores the latent space of human faces by training a neural network to imagine and then depict portraits of people who don’t exist. To do so, many thousands of photographs of faces taken from Flickr are fed to a type of machine-learning program called a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN). GANs work by using two neural networks that play an adversarial game: one (the “Generator”) tries to generate increasingly convincing output, while a second (the “Discriminator”) tries to learn to distinguish real photos from the artificially generated ones. At first, both networks are poor at their respective tasks. But as the Discriminator network starts to learn to predict fake from real, it keeps the Generator on its toes, pushing it to generate harder and more convincing examples. In order to keep up, the Generator gets better and better, and the Discriminator correspondingly has to improve its response. With time, the images generated become increasingly realistic, as both adversaries try to outwit each other. The images you see here are thus a result of the rules and internal correlations the neural networks learned from the training images.

Mike Tyka: A fleeting memory. Archival print, 20″x 20″, 2017


Mike Tyka: Anna. Digital 2017


Digital 2017

Digital 2017

Digital 2017

Digital 2017

Digital 2017



An animated video, Dreams of Imaginary People, can be seen at www.miketyka.com/projects/dreams/

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