Saturday, September 1, 2012

Pushing Boundaries: Portraits by Robert Weingarten

Where: Ripley Center

When: through October 14, 2012

This exhibit couldn't have come at a better time; just as my faith in Washington exhibits was fading, after that ridiculous John Cage display, here is a wonderful show by an incredibly talented and inventive artist.

It's a bit difficult to describe the pictures on display, but I will try - bear with me.  Weingarten contacts famous people (I saw portraits of sports figures, politicians, Supreme Court justices, actors and more) and asks them for a list of the items that have been important to them in their lives.  They could be objects, places or ideas - anything that has had an influence on the person, that has made the person who he/she is now.  He then takes the list and sets out to photograph the items mentioned.  Once he has the photographs, he uses digital imaging technology to put them together into one picture, which becomes a portrait of the person in question.

There is usually one central image that dominates the picture, and which one would immediately associate with the person.  The photo above is of Sandra Day O'Connor's portrait, and the dominant image is of the Supreme Court chamber where the justices hear oral arguments.  When you look more closely, you see other items, things that don't pop out at you right away.  It's fun to try to identify all of the images in the pictures.  I also tried guessing the identity of the portrait's subject.

I was reminded of the portraits I saw at The Black List exhibit at the Portrait Gallery.  There, you had only the person, with a plain background, nothing extraneous to distract you from the individual.  Here, you have the opposite: the person is never pictured, only things that make up his or her life.  Which is the truer portrait?  Which gives you the clearer picture?  A thought-provoking show.

I realize I haven't commented on the photography itself, which is also amazing.

Verdict: Don't miss this terrific show - great photography, great portraiture and a very innovative way to depict a person's life.

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