by Edward M. Gómez

Who hasn’t lain back on the grass on a sunny summer day, staring up at the sky, watching the slow movement of the clouds and, sometimes, even detecting recognizable shapes or patterns in those gigantic, faraway masses of water droplets and frozen crystals floating in a celestial sea of blue?

There’s a name for that phenomenon — for seeing meaningful forms or patterns in otherwise random, ambiguous images or objects. Scientifically, it is known as pareidolia, a term derived from Greek words referring to something that is faulty or incorrect and to images or shapes.

A photo by Bill Westmoreland of knots in a wood floorboard resembling a face’s eyes and nose. Courtesy of the artist

Scientists have found that, when the human brain perceives a face in an ambiguous object of perception, a person is likely to have an emotional reaction to what he or she may recognize as familiar. Close examination of photographs of Mars or the Earth’s moon has led some observers to recognize the shapes of certain animals on their surfaces. Christianity’s leading figures have been known to turn up in unusual places, too; in 2015, a woman in the Mexican state of Oaxaca claimed to have seen the face of Jesus Christ on a tortilla.

brutjournal’s visual director, the photographer Bill Westmoreland, is nothing if not super-attentive to the visible character and details of whatever environment he may be passing through, and recently spotted some faces in the wood floorboards of his house. He was not under the influence of tequila or any other potent substance at the time.

Bill told us, “A lot of times, when I’m driving in the countryside, I may see what looks like a deer up the road, on the side of a hill, but then, the closer I get to it, the more clearly I realize it’s a tree. But the way the limbs of the tree are shaped, from a certain angle, it may look like a deer.”

Another photo by Bill Westmoreland of knots in a wood surface in his home. Courtesy of the artist

He added, “I see a lot of faces on trees and in clouds, and sometimes these faces are created by negative spaces in which limbs curl, curve, and create two circles resembling eyes. I usually find it amusing and I remember where I see these faces so that the next time I walk by or drive by that same place, I’ll look for them again.”

What about the effect of his camera? We asked Bill if looking through a camera allows him to spot such unexpected, recognizable shapes or patterns more easily or more effectively than he might be able or likely to do without such a powerful tool.

A photo by Bill Westmoreland of a wood surface in his home, in which knots, incised lines, and stains suggest the face of a strange creature. Courtesy of the artist

He explained, “No, generally I find such faces with the naked eye and then I photograph them.”

Here, these photos Bill shot feel both amusing and a bit haunting at the same time.

Potentially, their subjects might be valuable, too. After all, it’s worth keeping in mind that, as the Associated Press reported in 2004, a woman in Florida sold a ten-year-old, grilled-cheese sandwich that she claimed featured an image of the Virgin Mary for $28,000 on eBay.


A photo by Bill Westmoreland of a wood surface in his home, in which two knots suggest a somewhat forlorn facial expression. Courtesy of the artist
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