Gary Schneider’s ArtisTalk at the Harvard Art Museums

As part of my internship at deCordova, I am responsible for managing the ever-overflowing baskets of exhibition postcards and artist announcements that get sent to the curatorial department.  The upside is that I’ve found it to be an awesome way to keep up on what’s going on in the art world!  On Tuesday I was looking through some new ones, as I spotted a Tim Rollins and K.O.S. piece, and with a closer look discovered a booklet for a new series of lectures, ArtisTalk, at the Harvard Art Museums.  The talk with Gary Schneider was perfectly timed after work that same day, so off I went!

I wasn’t super familiar with Schneider’s work beforehand, but I’m so glad I got a chance to hear about it from the artist.  He fuses his background in performance into his photographs, as each one is a process undergone with the subject.  For his portraits, he has the subject lie down for over an hour, while uses a flashlight as lighting and exposes a one tiny piece of their face at a time to come up with a full image (reminds me of a 2D Oliver Herring!)  He calls it a performance, in fact, because the exchange between artist and subject is so intimate.  For "Hand Print Portraits,“ Schneider uses an emulsion method, and talks the subject through the process in the darkroom.

Schneider discussed how his goal is to get past the "camera face” (we all know this well from Facebook…), and to capture the essence of the person by creating a connection with them through the long process.  I love that instead of using the portrait photographer’s usual and often abrasive methods to capture identity, such as speed, surprise, or even exhaustion (Avedon, anyone?), he uses relaxation and comfort to achieve this goal.  Note this difference between the two eyes - he starts on one and ends on the other.  Thus, the eyes are essentially the difference between the subject’s “camera face” and the subject’s true identity.  

Schneider calls the portraits, the “documentation of moments” and cites the “traces of energy” found between the subject and artist in the portraits.  The spiritual nature of the work is surprising and beautiful, especially seen in his hand portraits.  He encompasses what looks like the vastness of the Milky Way in one small part of the body.  I’m a sucker for hands, and I love the way he uses the medium to capture, as he calls it, the human soul.  Inspiring!