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My name is Nancy Princenthal; I am a New York-based art critic and a faculty member of the School of Visual Arts, and I will provide a little background on Ann Hamilton’s O N E E V E R Y O N E. In this series of photo portraits, commissioned by Landmarks for the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin, Hamilton illuminates links between touch and vision, contact and caring.
The photographs are made by positioning subjects behind a material called Duraflex®, which, the artist says, looks a little like a frosted shower curtain and feels a little like skin. Whatever touches the surfaces from behind is seen from the front in sharp focus, while everything else becomes progressively soft. In photographic terms, it creates a very shallow depth of field. To viewers of the resulting portraits, this screen becomes the image surface, a translation that binds visual and tactile perception.
Subjects standing behind the Duraflex® screen can’t see the camera, and although they hear Hamilton’s voice directing them, they feel as if they are in a private space, which fosters a sense of self-reflection that is visible in the resulting images. Hamilton says that trust—with respect to the camera, and to her—was another important issue in the photos’ creation. And trust is essential to a relationship the subjects share: all of them are either care providers, administrators, or patients in Austin’s extended medical community. Photo shoots were open to all and held at community health clinics, a student union, university campuses, a children’s hospital, a retirement community, and elsewhere. All are connected by the understanding that, as Hamilton says, “Touch and human recognition are the core of medicine.”
O N E E V E R Y O N E is a project with several components. The primary one is an image bank, with more than 21,000 photographs of roughly 530 people. A few dozen of these have been printed on lustrous white enameled porcelain panels—they evoke trays for medical instruments—and installed at the Dell Medical School campus. Most of the photographs capture parts of the subjects’ faces, but some focus on hands instead, which consolidates the connection between touching and seeing. We see a man cradling a baby, a cross-generational handshake, and a flutter of fingers. In addition, many hundreds of the images appear in a wordless book. Published in a run of 10,000 copies and distributed freely on campus, it evokes an old-fashioned telephone directory. An additional component of O N E E V E R Y O N E is a newspaper in which a selection of the photographs appears alongside contributions by scientists, philosophers, poets, and essayists. Essays and a library of downloadable images can be found at Hamilton-landmarks.org.
The democracy of art so powerfully expressed in the Austin project’s open circulation of images and ideas is perhaps Hamilton’s central principle. With immersive installations at major museums and public spaces around the world, she has created dozens of opportunities for viewers, collaborators and community members to come together, as they’ve done in Austin, in experiences of focused social interaction and heightened perceptual engagement.
American, born 1956
O N E E V E R Y O N E is a series of photographic portraits by Ann Hamilton commissioned for the Dell Medical School. The series illuminates particular links between touch and vision, contact and caring. Hamilton photographed more than 530 participants from the Austin community. They stood behind a frosted, plastic material that puts in sharp focus whatever it touches, while progressively softening receding features. To viewers of the resulting portraits, the cloudy screen becomes the image surface, a translation that binds visual and tactile perception.
Touch has been key to Hamilton’s work from the outset. Among her earliest works was (suitably positioned) (1984), in which a man’s business suit covered in protruding toothpicks provoked in viewers a distinctly heightened experience of tactile sensitivity. Hamilton has combined the tactile and the photographic in many works; reflections (2000) is a series of photographs shot through multiple layers of slightly wavy glass that produced blurry images—a precedent for O N E E V E R Y O N E. Also creating soft-edged images was the small camera Hamilton placed inside her mouth for face to face (2001). Opening her lips exposed the film and transposed her (silenced) mouth into a speaking eye. By the end of the 1980s Hamilton had begun to produce the complex, community-engaging, site-related installations that have consumed the majority of her efforts since.
The democracy of art is perhaps Hamilton’s central principle, and it is clearly reflected in the remarkable openness of O N E E V E R Y O N E—from its enormous range of participants to texts and images available freely in print and on the work’s website. That collaborative effort is deepened by Hamilton’s commitment to the extended community of the Dell Medical School. Hamilton references John Berger’s A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor, which considers with great sympathy the relationships forged between a physician and his patients. A highly developed sense of touch, and an equal ability to see his patients clearly, as whole beings rather than as aggregated physical parts—while at the same time understanding them to be inextricably connected to their town and its culture—were central to Berger’s quietly heroic practice. Hamilton’s O N E E V E R Y O N E represents a similar devotion.
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