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A few of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's happy places: Yankees Stadium, Murray's Cheese Shop and and Joe's Shanghai, a Chinese restaurant in New York City.
Easy rider: Dennis Hopper gets the Weingarten treatment.
FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR
"What makes you who you are?" is not a rhetorical question when photographer Robert Weingarten asks it of well-known Americans. He wants them to list the places, ideas, things and events that shaped their lives.
Using digital photographic techniques, Weingarten then develops "composite assemblages." These are not physical representations of people at one specific moment in time, but rather three-dimensional presentations in layers of the things they think are what makes them who they are.
Each set of answers is as unique as its iconic subject.
Actor Dennis Hopper listed an "Easy Rider" motorcycle, a director's chair, a cigar and Andy Warhol's "Mao" painting with bullet holes made during a drug-induced frenzy, while evangelist Billy Graham's portrait includes a Bible, sermon outlines and a gilded wooden cross.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor focused on places she loves: Yankees Stadium, Murray's Cheese Shop and a Chinese Restaurant--Joe's Shanghai--in New York City, as well as the Supreme Court, while baseball player Hank Aaron included sentimental possessions: fishing rods, his No. 44 baseball jersey and a B&O rail car.
The real "object" is clearly spatially separate from the subject. It's something the subject might own and not something that is part of one's personality. The objects, scenes or representations selected from art, culture, politics, sports or science are ingredients in a Weingarten portrait. These visualizations of what makes the person think and act the way he does is the stuff usually reserved for literary biographical works.
The large-scale (60- by 90-inch), colored works, consisting of multiple photographic overlays, are the result of a process which starts with input from the subject. Each of the portraits is accompanied by a framed letter from the subject to Weingarten listing his answers to the artist's questions of what made him who he is.
Weingarten can also control the opacity, density and color to create with new digital technology that is not possible through traditional chemical photography, thus the three-dimensional aspect of his works creates a relationship among the images.
Surrounding Weingarten's works in the exhibit are famous photos, such as Michael Jackson in one of his dance moves and Martha Graham in an expressive gesture. Each portrait is like the subject's signature, which visually brings his name instantly to mind to tell us who he is.
Weingarten's photo of Mikhail Baryshnikov with its layered complexity of dancers and musical scores poses an interesting counterpoint to the extended possibilities in a digital age of capturing the essence of a personality.
Sheila Wickouski, a former Fredericksburg resident, is a freelance reviewer for The Free Lance-Star.