Portraits: The Network by Lincoln Schatz Artist Interview – National Portrait Gallery

Portraits: The Network by Lincoln Schatz Artist Interview – National Portrait Gallery


So one of the things that intrigued me upstairs
when you were doing the presentation a little while ago, you said how could I create portraits
of power and leadership using new technologies? “The Network” seems to be the answer to
that question. Can you expand on how you decided on this
massive format? Sure. Well, if we think about traditional form of
portraiture, for example Avedon’s series “The Family,” by virtue of the technology
he was using, he locks himself in that single moment in time, and trying to encapsulate
everything about the individual. And certainly we see here at the National
Portrait Gallery that same, if you will, technological threshold is exercised with every painting,
every sculpture, and every print and every drawing here. So the ability to create a portrait that can
flow overtime, where we can hear the sitter in their own first-person voice talk about
those things that are important to them and try and tease out their ideological strands,
their personality, that to me look like a giant green opportunity and challenge in terms
of creating portraits of people. We really were able to tell the story then
in a very in-depth way. So video seemed like the completely natural
tool to use to capture that. So it wasn’t so easy, however. We had many stubbed toes along the way. I mean we had promised to deliver a finished
sequence of the human genome in fifteen years at a time when the technology to do that hadn’t
been invented. So there was a lot of promise here that had
to be based upon developments that you couldn’t be confident of. It seems like a manifestation of William Faulkner
“As I Lay Dying,” or John Hersey, “multiple points of view.” You’ve got one person in the center and they
actually, they seem to become the event. And then you surround them with portraits
of themselves. How did you decide on the myriad of images
that you and… how did you decide on that and how did you craft that? Well, each sitting took place at the National
Portrait Gallery on stage. And I sat about two and a half feet from sitter. And we arrayed 3 cameras around me, two off
to one side and one on the other side. And they looked at the sitter there. So we were able to capture them at about a
hundred and twenty degrees. And each time I asked a question, which is
excised from the piece, the cameras changed focal length. So what we were able to do through that strategy
over the course of forty five minutes have thirty or forty different focal lengths and
kind of camera angles all the way around them. And the idea really was to remove portraiture
from the frontality where the sitter had the ability compose themselves for something and
we got that single view – and instead wrap around them so it becomes more intimate suddenly. It becomes more voyeuristic. And that ability to look at someone in profile,
look at the contours of their face, and see their face move, see them gesticulate… that
became part of the texture of the portrait that I wanted to capture to really get a feeling
of who somebody is beyond their roll, but on a very personal level, explain them or
gain insight on them. Well first, you know, it’s really interesting. As commanders you go visit all the time in
the hospital but before that when I did it, it was kind of an experience. It’s always a… it’s an uncomfortable experience
when you do it initially because you don’t know what to do, you don’t know what to
say all the time. But having gone through with my son, I learned
what it was like to be around wounded warriors. And so I feel comfortable around them. I understood what to say. I understood how to talk to them. I understood that they just want you to be
honest with them, talk about everything about it. They like to talk about the injuries. They like to retell the stories. They like to, you know, and so for me it’s
made it very easy for me and my wife to do this and my wife has become very dedicated
to it. The theme of this work is power, one of the
great themes the echoes over and over again. Am I correct on that first, and if so can
you expand on your own notions of power and how they play into this piece and in the wider
sense? Sure. So power is a double-edged word. And it’s one of those words which would
polarizes people as does words like influence. So as we began the project and started thinking
about it, we were doing a lot of analogical gymnastics trying to come up with other words
to try and hunt around this. And in the end, power most succinctly describes
what this is. And we’ve sort of translated it into different
variants to understand who should be included – the ability to influence a conversation,
the ability to direct the conversation, the ability to influence an agenda, the ability
to change things. And so we started to break it apart into these
children. We started to have a better understanding
of who should be in the project and how we define power. And all of those ultimately co-joined to be
criteria that establish who was included in the project itself. Again, I would say to you how far we’ve come,
how far we have to go. The important Supreme Court decision that
of Griswold which decided in the mid ‘60s that married couples could legally purchase
contraception – married couples legally purchase contraception – was a landmark
decision because it really addressed the right of privacy and women making the most personal
of decisions about when and under what circumstances to become pregnant. Was there anyone you involved in the project
you didn’t think you were going to be able to land? Was there a fish you were surprised to catch,
as it were? Well, you know, there are a lot of people
that – I tried to get a lot of people. I aimed high for the project and got a lot
of no’s, got a lot more yes’s in the project. And yeah, there were a number of people who…
you know, it grew incrementally. I think one of the first ones was Eric Cantor. When he really agreed to be a part of the
project, and I thought boy, we really hit a plateau. And then, you know, then the Chief of Staff
of the Army agrees and then, you know, Nancy Pelosi agrees. Then, you know, the Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs agrees and it just kept growing and growing and growing. So it was an incremental project. Tickled all the way along that this happened. So is there anyone out there who is going
to walk into that room and see that work and say I’m a lot more powerful than these people. I’m sure. [Laughter] And DC is full of those people,
right? And so the idea here wasn’t to create a
top 100 in DC list. There are plenty of those out there. The idea here was really what if I could become
part of the bloodstream of this conversation at this point in time? And what does that look like and who are these
nodes within it? And it can only be who I happen to come across,
so there’s a bit of luck in all of this. And there’s something, I kind of live my
life that way, and there’s a beauty that. So I let it just become the DNA for this project. And I think it yielded something that is truly
special.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *