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Laurel Nakadate makes art by connecting with strangers, and she wants you to do this, too! She gives us the challenge of finding little known family members and making their photographic portrait. Here are the specifics:

1. Find a family member who you haven't seen in a while or have never met
2. Take their portrait
3. Upload it to your social media platform of choice using #theartassignment
4. Fame and glory (your work might be in a future episode)

Learn more about Laurel Nakadate's work: Laurelnakadate.weebly.com
http://www.tonkonow.com/nakadate_photo.html

And read Roland Barthes' Camera Lucida!: http://www.amazon.com/Camera-Lucida-Reflections-Roland-Barthes/dp/0374532338

And don't forget about all of the other excellent PBS Digital Studios channels: http://youtube.com/pbsdigitalstudios
Today we're on the High Line in New York, and we're about to meet up with Laurel Nakadate, who for a number of years has explored how to connect with strangers through art-making. She makes photographs, videos, and films, and throughout her career, has considered the complex give and take between those behind the camera and those in front of it.    In her early video works, Nakadate videotaped herself dancing and performing with men she had just met, and in 2010 she enacted a year-long performance in which she photographed herself weeping each day of the year. But she's also turned the camera on others in her feature-length films, as well as in such photo series as Star Portraits, where she invited strangers and people she barely knew to meet her at night in remote locations to take photos lit only by available light and a single flashlight. She's used the same process to photograph distant relatives, and it's this series that we're going to talk to her about today at her gallery, Leslie Tonkonow, in Chelsea. So let's go meet her and see what kind of a challenge she has for us.   Hey, I'm Laurel Nakadate, and this is your Art Assignment.   Throughout my career I've been preoccupied with this idea of meeting strangers, and I've been preoccupied with this idea of the chance encounter, or the moment that two people meet, or the moment where everything changes based on a new relationship that's been formed. So I decided that I would invite strangers to meet me at night, under the night sky, and, um, make portraits of them that are lit with only starlight, moonlight, and a single flashlight. And I chose the flashlight because I wanted to mimic the way we find each other in the dark.    In this current body of work, I actually decided that I would meet people through, um, DNA matching, so I took a DNA test, and I started comparing my DNA to strangers on the internet, and, as I found people who matched my DNA, I contacted them and asked them if they'd participate in my portrait project.    Meeting people through my DNA was a way to sort of bring it back to this, um, this idea of meeting people in the real world and not just meeting people on the internet. It's sort of a hybrid of the two ways of working because I am meeting people through the internet, but I'm meeting them through, um, meeting them at the most cellular level, and so there's something about, um, finding one another because we happen to be related sometime in the last 300 years that humanizes it in a way that I feel that the internet sort of started to strip the work of many human qualities.    Go find a family member who you've not seen in many years or who you have not met and make their portrait. You can find this family member by asking your parents, your aunts, your uncles, your siblings. You can go to genealogy websites. You could look in the phone book and find people with your last name. Find out if they're related to you. They might be. If it's a small town, they definitely are. Um... Make a portrait of a family member who you've not met or you have not seen in some time.    Since John isn't here this week, I can talk about art theory without him complaining, so I'd like to think a little bit about photography as a medium. While it's only natural to be distrustful of images in our day, there's still a kind of truth to the photograph--it is, or as least is seen as, evidence of something that actually happened. And for me this brings to mind Roland Barthes' book, Camera Lucida, which was written in 1980 and has been very popular, as books about photography go. It's a very personal, subjective account. Barthes writes about a photo he found of his mother, who had recently died, taken when she was a young girl, and the effect it has on him.   Now, you should really read the whole book because it's not very long and there's a lot of good stuff on it, but for right now, I want to focus on Barthes' characterization of photography as an art of the person--of identity, of civil status, of what we might call, in all senses of the term, the body's formality.    He says, "The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here." For him, the photograph does not call up the past: "The effect it produces upon me is not to restore what has been abolished by time, by distance, but to attest that what I see has indeed existed."   Laurel Nakadate's project underlines this effect. We know we are connected to a wide network of others, and yet that knowledge is abstract. We don't feel it or see it. To find those relatives, to meet them, and to photograph them ratifies their existence. As Barthes said, "Every photograph is a certificate of presence."    Nakadate's photos certify not only the presence of her relatives, but also her own, and yours, the viewer's. Barthes wrote, "Photography can reveal, in the chemical sense of the term, but what it reveals is a certain persistence of the species." This revelation happens when we look at pictures of those who have died as well as those who are living, when we meet these strangers, be they related or not, eye to eye, from previous times as well as our own.    In some ways I feel like no one would believe me if I started telling the stories of, you know, all the places I've been on this trip and all the people I've met, but, um there's been some really good lessons in failure, um, in that, I, you know, I'd flew all the way to this, like, small town in Ohio to meet this distant cousin who shares, like a, an eighth great-grandparent with me, and I show up to her home, and it begins pouring rain. So I've flown from, you know, New York to Ohio, um, rented a car, you know, found her home, and I get there and it begins raining, and I'm like, so this is just how it's going to go. We're just, we're just not--and then I realized, no, I'm still taking the picture. So, you know, like, I dashed off to the, like, the drugstore and get an umbrella, and I dash back to her house, and she, like, comes outside, and it's pouring rain, and it's one of the most amazing pictures in the series. So, um, you know, experiences like that, that I feel can only happen when you're forced to make the picture that day, that moment, those kinds of things are happening with this project.    So this portrait actually is of a family, and this family's not related to me, but this was one, this was, this--this photo was shot on the first night of the Star Portrait series. So, um, all of the photos shot on that first night are really near and dear to my heart because, um, I really didn't know what I was doing yet, and I really was just sort of grasping at the idea that it would all work out if I just started taking pictures.    So, um, this is a family that showed up for the shoot. They were friends of a friends, and they, um, I think they heard about the shoot through a Facebook post, and they showed up, and I actually--I don't know their names, um, and I spent I think maybe five minutes photographing them, and I've never seen them again. But there's something really lovely about the fleeting quality of that, about the photograph is the encounter, the photograph is all that exists from that night, um... And then after that night, you know, everything happened, so...   I assume there's never going to be an audience and that no one will ever see the work, and then I just make the work I want to make. And I know that's the wrong answer, but I haven't come up with a better one.