Some think he is a missing person or the victim of a violent crime.
Others suggest he's an American Apparel model or an undergrad running for student government.
But the anonymous male whose photo currently hangs above Fisher-Bennett Hall is actually a Penn student who has become the latest subject of conceptual artist Braco Dimitrijevic's "Casual Passer-By" series.
Since the late 1960s, Dimitrijevic, who was born in the former Yugoslavia and now lives in Paris, has photographed strangers he encounters on the street and plastered their faces on billboards, banners and buses in cities worldwide.
The photos, which suggest the fickleness of celebrity, are purposely ambiguous. As a result, each is interpreted differently in each city from decade to decade.
"Too much information would be actually killing the piece," said Dimitrijevic in a recorded interview with students in a Penn curatorial seminar. The class collaborated with the artist and the Slought Foundation, a Philadelphia non-profit organization that works with international artists, to put the exhibit together.
Dimitrijevic is currently in Berlin and could not be reached for further comment.
Last spring, Dimitrijevic stopped College sophomore Michael Howard in front of Starbucks at the corner of 34th and Walnut streets and asked to take his picture.
Howard signed a waiver for the photo to be used in an exhibition and forgot about the encounter - until a celebrity-sized poster of his face appeared above Fresh Grocer.
"I was a little mortified. It took me by surprise," Howard said, "and then I was a little embarrassed, because there's a massive picture of my face and all these people asking about it."
Since the photo was first displayed in October, strangers have regularly approached Howard wanting to know who he is.
The photo has since been moved to Fisher-Bennett Hall, where Howard has class four days a week.
Ann Marie Pitts, an administrative assistant in Fisher-Bennett Hall, said 25 to 30 people have dropped into the front office to ask about the photo.
Howard has heard more speculation than he bargained for.
"People ask, 'Are you starting a modeling career or did you win some kind of reward?'" Howard said. Recently someone told him, "Not to demean you, but I thought you were a homeless child."
But these are exactly the responses that interest Aaron Levy, the English professor who runs the curatorial seminar and helped facilitate the project as the director of the Slought Foundation.
"You respond to it with a series of questions, not with a series of answers," Levy said. "In London or Paris, X million people may have passed by this work and not necessarily noticed it as such."
Dimitrijevic began the "Casual Passer-By" series in his home country, which was heavily politicized at the time.
"People thought immediately, for the very first [installations], that there was a sudden change of government," Dimitrijevic said in the recording. "When they saw three unknown faces, they thought something happened overnight considering the rulers of the country."
English lecturer Laura Heffernan was also photographed for the project, though her photo was ultimately not used.
At an opening event for the exhibit, students in the curatorial seminar told Howard they had spent three months analyzing his face and trying to figure out what he was thinking or feeling.
"I completely respect the artist and his work," Howard said. "It's just strange when you're the subject of the piece."Comments powered by Disqus
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