Death of the Author

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Right now at the Corocoran Gallery of Art there is a much hyped exhibition of Richard Avedon’s work entitled Portraits of Power.  The show spans the prolific photographer’s career as he photographs elite government, media and labor officials, counter-cultural activists, writers and artists, as well as ordinary citizens caught up in national debates.  The show itself is worth seeing, but I was particularly interested in a corresponding instalation in the main entrance hall called The Corcoran Portrait Project.  This interactive, user-generated art project makes available a professionaly-lit photo booth equipped with a high resolution camera.  Members of the public step up to the camera and click the shutter, and then look up at a large screen in the center of the room to see their self portrait inserted into a running slideshow of the hundreds of other images already taken so far.  The cumulative effect is quite captivating.  The lighting and reproduction of the images is of a high quality, and almost every protrait is captivating in a way that suprises one to learn that they were not taken by a professional photographer.  It makes one wonder “who is the artist?”  There is an individual or small group who is responsible for setting up the technology, but without the participation of the public, there is no art being created.  It could be said that each individual is performing a creative action when they click the button and record their face, but they are also clearly not responcible for the art project as a whole.

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