On Sunday evening I made my way to Lincoln Center to see photographer David Michalek’s newest project, Portraits in Dramatic Time. For Portraits, which is projected onto a massive screen on the façade of the David H. Koch Theater, Michalek photographed actors at 3,000 frames per second, in ultra high definition. Five to twelve seconds of movement have been slowed down to last about eight minutes.
Just like in Slow Dancing, Michalek’s 2007 exhibit at Lincoln Center that featured projections of dancers from around the world, the beauty of Portraits is that it allows viewers to observe – or rather, scrutinize – every subtlety in the actors’ performances. The furrowing of a brow, or dropping a tea bag into a cup, is mesmerizing when seen at a glacial pace. Many of the actors used props, as well, such as a book, a pizza box, or photographs. The billowing of fabric or turning of a page is strikingly beautiful and intriguing at such slow speeds. Yet, without any context for the brief scenes projected on the screen, watching Portraits leaves viewers wondering why the characters are behaving as they are. You wonder, what is going on? Why was one woman about to punch another? And in another scene, is that man about to strangle an anxious-looking woman or pull her towards him in order to protect her? We never find out.
Alan Rickman was one of the actors featured in the project, and he happened to stroll up to Lincoln Center shortly before he appeared on the projector. I can only imagine how strange it must be to watch yourself on a screen at such a slow speed, but his range and power were fantastic. Concern, pensiveness, anger, and rage all came through in his performance, which included picking up a tea cup, throwing it, and then overturning a large table. It’s wonderful to witness nuance in a skilled actor’s performance, but Michalek’s project takes nuance to another level.
Portraits in Dramatic Time is certainly an exercise in patience, and to see all of the actors, it most likely requires multiple viewings. The project is on display at Lincoln Center every night from 8:45 to 11:45 PM through July 31st.