Washington Power on View at the National Portrait Gallery

The Network maps out Washington's movers and shakers using cutting-edge multimedia.

FE_121212_network.jpg

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, in a still from "The Network," an innovative group portrait by the artist Lincoln Schatz.

By + More

[Opinion: Obama Doesn't Have Leverage in Fiscal Cliff Negotiations]

"We weren't getting anywhere, because I still felt like I was looking at the outer skin," he says. Drawing from the Facebook model, Schatz then decided to rely on referrals, asking each sitter who else the artist should consider, This proved to be the best strategy of infiltrating Washington's network, even if some sitters could produce little more than more names.

Once Schatz reached out to potential subjects some sitters were eager to participate.

"I sent a fax to Americans for Tax Reform and Grover Norquist got back to me right away," he recalls.

Others took 15 or 20 tries to nail down, some because of scheduling constraints, others becuase they didn't at first understand, and many, in this image-conscious city, because of the unscripted nature of the project.

"It was definitely a leap of faith that required a lot of conversation and assurances that I would not take what they were saying out of context," he says. And that's not to mention the legal hoops Schatz jumped through to negotiating a contract so that the sitters could be a part of the project. "As a small arts studio in Chicago, working with these large federal agencies with five or seven lawyers [included on the E-mail chain], that was brutal."

Once he did get his subjects in front of the camera, his work paid off.

"Working with people in Washington, several things became clear right away. One was that everyone that I was working with was on top of their game, intensely bright, and deeply committed to what they were doing, with an extreme earnestness."

His subjects were separated by industry, generation, and, perhaps most importantly in Washington, by the aisle.

"I was concerned that I would emerge politically agnostic. In the end, I came out exhilarated with tremendous faith that there were super intelligent people working diligently on these issues," says Schatz. "While there are certainly differences, everybody I met was so deeply committed to working for their constituents and working for the ideas in the most ultimately noble way possible."

[Photos: Christmas Around the World]

The Network is on display at the National Portrait Gallery. Smithsonian Books has also published a book to along with the The Network.

More News:

  • Homeland Recap: Closer to Closure
  • 5 Reasons to Thank Prohibition on 'Repeal Day'
  • Shakespeare, Romcoms, and the 30 Rock Wedding
  • Tierney Sneed is associate editor of U.S. News Opinion. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at tsneed@usnews.com.