The Network: A Portrait

Sample of The Network by Lincoln Schatz.

The National Portrait Gallery today unveiled The Network, Lincoln Schatz’s new generative portrait. Rather than a single sitter, Schatz’s work features eighty-nine individuals who are a part of the national power structure. These sitters are captured on video discussing their roles in politics, science, and education, as well as their lives and significant moments in the nation’s story.

“How could I create portraits of power and leadership using new technologies?” Schatz asked during the dedication ceremony. “My idea was to emancipate the portrait from the single moment, allow it to occur over time. Enable it to continuously [and] democratically explore each of the sitters by topic in the service of creating a portrait of this moment in time in U.S. history.”

Schatz’s format contains a single subject appearing multiple times on the screen. The subject has been recorded digitally from different angles, but only one of those shots is a speaking shot. Because The Network is a digital recording, Schatz was able to create metadata tags for topics discussed within it, resulting in a randomly generated (hence, “generative”) video portrait. It is not looped as a traditional film would be and thus does not produce the same video sequence over repeated viewings.

Group photo in front of "The Network" installation
Many of the eight-nine sitters featured in The Network.

The discourse is as varied as the sitters. Schatz conducted eighty-nine interviews with, for example, political figures such as Barney Frank, Vernon Jordan, Eric Cantor, Nancy Pelosi, and Sandra Day O’Connor. Among those in the arts and sciences interviewed were Steven Chu, Anthony Fauci, and Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough.

Anne Collins Goodyear, the National Portrait Gallery’s associate curator of prints and drawings and manager of new media acquisitions, said of the work, “I’m thrilled with it. I think it captures a moment in time that we know is ephemeral; it will carry insights for future generations that we cannot yet imagine.” Goodyear worked closely with the artist on the logistics; the interviews took place on the museum’s auditorium stage for more than fourteen months, from May 2011 to June 2012.

—Warren Perry, Catalog of American Portraits, National Portrait Gallery         


Lincoln Schatz speaking at podium
Lincoln Schatz at the opening of The Network.