Face to Face

A photography series by artist Ann Hamilton takes a look at the lives touched by Central Texas’ health care system.

The Alcalde
Jan 3, 2017 · 4 min read

At some point or another, each of our lives will intersect with the health care system. Whether it’s for a routine checkup, getting a flu shot, or treatment for specific symptoms (when you don’t get a flu shot), it’s simply part of the human experience.

That interconnectivity between caregivers and patients is the subject of O N E E V E R Y-O N E, a photography series by renowned artist Ann Hamilton, commissioned for the Dell Medical School as part of UT’s Landmarks public art program. Hanging a unique, semi-transparent membrane between the subject and her lens, Hamilton achieves something remarkable with each photograph: She renders our sense of touch — that feeling of a hand on your arm, the sand beneath your feet — visible to the human eye.

O N E E V E R Y O N E is the latest series of works for UT’s Landmarks, which launched in 2008 to create a cohesive public art program across the Forty Acres. Led by director Andrée Bober, Landmarks now encompasses 40 site-specific installations, including James Turrell’s “The Color Inside” on the roof of the Student Activity Center and Mark di Suvero’s iconic red “Clock Knot” sculpture in front of the Cockrell School of Engineering. “These portraits represent individuals and their common conditions,” Bober says of the O N E E V E R Y O N E series. “They encompass the full arc of human existence — where life appears, where the soma and psyche are cared for, and where it ends.”

O N E E V E R Y O N E series. “They encompass the full arc of human existence — where life appears, where the soma and psyche are
cared for, and where it ends.”

Inspired by Dell Medical School’s mission to create deep, meaningful connections within the community, Hamilton embarked on a three-part Austin residency, during which she photographed more than 500 individuals touched by the health care system — including faculty, students, doctors, patients, and local residents and legislators who helped pass Central Health Proposition 1, the initiative that secured funding for the school back in 2012. Prop 1 champion Sen. Kirk Watson even stopped by for his close-up.

“Starting conversations and inspiring creativity and community connections is one of the great gifts of public art, and it’s also vital to what we’re trying to create at Dell Medical School,” says Clay Johnston, dean of the Dell Medical School. “These images encourage and challenge us to think differently about the wide range of individuals that make up our community, and the collective impact we can have.”

In all, it’s a fairly conventional setup for a portrait: There’s a camera perched atop a tripod, a subject, and a photographer. But the magic is in Duraflex, a tough, semi-transparent rubber-plastic membrane engineered by Bayer MaterialScience. Unlike a typical backdrop, it’s hung like a curtain in between the camera and the subject. He or she is then instructed to step forward and place something against the material — a hand, an eyebrow, maybe a piece of clothing — and it instantly comes into focus, an exchange between the subject, photographer, and viewer. Everything else in the photo becomes soft, fuzzy, almost poetic. The resulting images evoke the vantage point of healers.

“At one point, we will all give or receive care. We will all be patients,” Hamilton says. “Even in an age of technological extension, face-to-face exchange, touch, trust, and recognition are fundamental to the relationship between a doctor and a patient.”

Hamilton’s shoot locations were carefully selected to represent all facets of Central Texas’ health care system: North Central Health Center, Westminster Retirement Community, and Huston-Tillotson University, among others. She spent time in one of the art rooms at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, set up shop on the Senate Chamber floor at the State Capitol, and staked out the Texas Student Union on a quiet Friday night.

A selection of O N E E V E R Y O N E portraits will be installed at Dell Medical School’s new state-of-the-art Center for Health Learning and Center for Health Discovery buildings in early 2017. The entire image library — which contains more than 10,000 photographs — will be compiled into a book that will be distributed in doctors’ offices and patient waiting rooms throughout Central Texas. There’s an opportunity for new installations as the Dell Medical School complex continues to grow, an ongoing tribute to the individuals and organizations working to change how we stay healthy.

In 2012, Hamilton was introduced to the thermo-plastic polyurethane membrane Duraflex through a collaboration with The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and she slowly began working with the material. The portraits commissioned for Dell Medical School are part of a larger, ongoing series that has previously featured Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writers, Bayer MaterialScience employees, Art Dealers Association of America audience members, and Hamilton’s friends. Her three-part Austin residency was her longest to date.

The Alcalde

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All things University of Texas—sports, feature stories, alumni news, and more—from the magazine of the Texas Exes. Find more at alcalde.texasexes.org.

The Alcalde


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