Reverse image search

Biologists have worked out how to use Google’s “reverse image search” to scour scientific papers for similarities between microscopic samples they have photographed and photographs reported in scientific papers by others — on the basis of image matching. This is very powerful. Can practitioners of art and design find equally useful applications of readily-available image matching technology?

This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of Marcel Duchamp’s ready-made fountain, i.e. urinal. As a homage to conceptual art I uploaded the Wikimedia commons image of the original, and it returned a slew of similar images.

More interesting is the opportunity afforded by a kind of image hybridity. You can only upload one image to Google’s reverse image search, but you can add some key words to modify the search. When I uploaded an image I had of one of Yayoi Kusama’s installations and added the word “urinal” Google conjured up the following (not by Kusama).

Here’s the original of Kusama’s installation.

Here are some other investigations. My original is on the left. Google responded with images on the right.

Reverse image search offers the potential for image exploration, discovery and invention … but is it art? Also see We are all multiples.


  • Coyne, Richard. 2012. Mosaics and multiples: Online digital photography and the framing of heritage. In Elisa Giaccardi (ed.), Heritage and Social Media: Understanding Heritage in a Participatory Culture: 161-178. London: Routledge.
  • Mamrosh, Jennifer L., and David D. Moore. 2015. Using google reverse image search to decipher biological images. Current Protocols in Molecular Biology.

About Richard Coyne

The cultural, social and spatial implications of computers and pervasive digital media spark my interest ... enjoy architecture, writing, designing, philosophy, coding and media mashups.


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