It's not easy being a Washingtonian; Congress's approval rating is at an all-time low and many Americans believe that our system is, if not totally broke, in need of some help. Schatz's book, a companion to an ongoing video portrait exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, is a pleasant and well-timed effort to burnish the image of the folks inside the Beltway. Familiar faces such as former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor are joined by people like anti-tax GOP operative Grover Norquist and Michael Kaiser, the president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The world of Washington, D.C. workers—lobbyists, secretaries, deputies, directors, elected officials, judges, chairpersons, and journalists—is presented in an earnest, easy to read history-book style. The Chicago-based Schatz, an artist but not a journalist, spent about 45 minutes with each subject and the book showcases photo stills and edited first-person transcripts from those sessions. Based on the innocuous narratives, Schatz was not going for gotcha moments nor was he challenging his subjects. These rosy portraits may have limited appeal if you're a jaded insider, but for the average American adult or school child, they're chock full of worthwhile details and telling anecdotes.
“Lincoln Schatz’s The Network uses an innovative technological matrix to introduce the people, ideas, and interconnections that drive our nation forward. Leaping past conventions of “artist” and “sitter,” “picture” and “viewer,” this interactive and immersive group portrait will revolutionize our sense of how power operates, and what art can reveal. A truly extraordinary experience.”
Paul Roth, Senior Curator and Director of Photography and Media Arts, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
“Lincoln Schatz is the most important and daring portraitist of the twenty-first century. He brings a singular vision as well as technological wizardry to rendering the most influential people of our time. The Network is his most ambitious project yet: As a portrait of not merely a group of individuals but also a portrait of power, The Network is entirely new and destined to define our moment in time for ages.”
David Granger, Editor in Chief, Esquire
"It’s a feat of technical wizardry that offers a chance to observe powerful figures from the perspectives of their convictions rather than their constituents."Washington City Paper
"In The Network, Mr. Schatz used three cameras to capture 45-minute interviews with each of 89 Beltway powers on their lives, work and concerns; their images and narratives are replayed continuously on a 70-inch screen but never repeated in the same way. Instead, issue-related keywords determine their sequence and content. You may hear National Rifle Association President David Keene and Emily's List President Stephanie Schriock wax poetic on the same topic (say, freedom) sequentially. You get a sense of the interviewee's ardor, intensity and commitment to causes, and see broad connections between the content as it unfolds."Crain's Chicago Business
“Equal parts Andy Warhol screen test and Congressional Yellow Book, the television displays various contemporary politicians, wonks, journalists, business leaders, science innovators, and cultural guardians, speaking about their upbringings, their passions, their world views, and their outlooks on the future.”US News & World Report
"It is, in many ways, the ultimate Washington coffee-table book."The Washington Independent Review of Books
Something gets lost in this analog "translation," as Chicago-based artist Schatz calls this book, of his monumental digital work in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, which goes on display in December 2012. Schatz has assembled what he calls "generative video portraits" of 89 of the nation's—and primarily Washington, D.C.'s—most powerful people. The subjects are from politics, primarily, but also business, technology, philanthropy and the media. The list includes dozens of well-known movers and shakers—Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, Grover Norquist, David Gergen, Cokie Roberts, Karl Rove, etc.—but also many who are not as known outside their particular fields but are nevertheless part of "the network" at the center of national power. Using multiple cameras, Schatz's studio reassembled the video he shot in Washington to create complex, painterly and collagelike images of his subjects speaking to his questions (which don't appear in video or in print). Stills from the video appear alongside the edited text of the interviews in the book, which run one directly after the other with minimal white space between them. Each interview begins with a called-out declaration of name and position ("I'm Jim Leach. I'm the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities") followed by a straightforward personal history and explanation of how the subject came to his or her current job, as well as reflections on the current state of affairs, most guardedly optimistic. The juxtaposition of these interesting but not earth-shattering narratives with the strange, sometimes ghostly images of their authors is jarring, and it's difficult to discern if the artist intended to flatter his powerful subjects or present a critique of them that can only be experienced in the digital format. May find an audience with Beltway groupies but not much more.