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Capturing unguarded portraits with ‘Hit It!’

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Hit It! – an unusual (and often amusing) installation by Austrian artists Leo Schatzl and Christian Haas – has been on display at the National Media Museum this year as part of our interactive family experience, In Your Face.

Hit It! invites visitors to jump upwards while an ultra high-speed camera photographs their expression as they do. The aim is to touch a soft ball with your head, triggering the camera. The outcome is a series of unguarded, completely natural portraits showing unarranged expressions, a rare thing in the age of perfectly composed and filtered selfies. These portraits are digitally collected, and have been displayed on a screen as part of the exhibition.

Since its installation at the museum, more than 17,000 visitors have participated in Hit It! and had their faces captured. Watch the video below to see a sample of some of the expressions (can you spot yourself?) and read on for a Q&A with Christian Haas.

Q&A with Christian Haas – artist for ‘Hit It!’

Please can you describe ‘Hit It!’?

‘Hit It!’ is a machine to explore the facial expressions of people. To use the machine you have to jump to hit your head against a soft ball. At the maximum height of the jump a photo is taken by a fixed camera and added as one frame to a film which shows a loop of faces taken at the same point. So over time the more the exhibit is used, the film as a piece of art gets longer.

What do you like about your work – ‘Hit It!’?

I like that the visitors have a lot of fun using the installation. And I like it when visitors start to change their attempts in trying to jump as high as possible. This gives the pictures with the most expression.

What has your experience of showing the work at the National Media Museum in Bradford been like?

Setting up Hit It! in the National Media Museum was amazing. For me it was a pleasure to work with such a highly professional team. We had to travel home to Austria shortly after the exhibition opened, so I didn’t get a deep impression for how the visitors are using Hit It! in the gallery, but I have enjoyed seeing the images of the visitors enjoying using our machine.

Artists Leo Schatzl and Christian Haas with Hit It! at the National Media Museum

Artists Christian Haas and Leo Schatzl with Hit It! at the National Media Museum

How has it differed from previous installations?

In the National Media Museum we have only artificial light to use. In the other places Hit It! was shown before we had also daylight. That makes the images taken in Bradford more consistent.

Where would you like to show the work next?

We have no detailed plans for where Hit It! will go next. Maybe we make an even more robust version and put it in a public space for some time.

If you’d like to experience Hit It! and be involved in this fascinating photography project for yourself, you have until the end of the week to do it. Hit It! will be at the National Media Museum until 30 October, when In Your Face will close to make way for our new exhibition, Fox Talbot: Dawn of the Photograph.

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