American, 20th–21st century, female.
Born 2 February 1964, in Boston.
Filmmaker, video artist, installation artist, journalist.
Laura Poitras is an artist, filmmaker, and journalist who places current events at the centre of her artistic practices. She is best known for her Academy Award–winning documentary, Citizenfour, the third film in her post-9/11 series. Poitras has received the George Polk Award, the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, the Peabody Award, and the Nannan Prize for Press Freedom, among many other awards.
Poitras’s work exposes information to the average American by granting access to material that was formerly confidential or not shown in Western media outlets. Her films focus on her reporting as in one of her best known works, Citizenfour (2014), where she exposed the National Security Agency’s data collection and surveillance activities using information leaked by former CIA employee Edward Snowden. Poitras travelled to Hong Kong for an interview with Snowden in which he gave her classified documents with proof of the NSA’s actions.
In 2012, Poitras participated in the Whitney Biennial where she showed the film O’Say Can You See, in addition to censored documents regarding the detainment she is subjected to each time she returns to the United States from an international trip. In 2016, the Whitney Museum of American Art showed her first solo exhibition, Astro Noise, that included her video pieces and immersive installations. In videos such as Bed Down Location, viewers lie down and stare up at the ceiling above them to view a video of the night sky in countries such as Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia, where the United States facilitates drone strikes. The title derives from the military term for the sleeping locations of those assassinated by drone. The installation invites viewers to empathize with those living in war-torn regions, seeing the night skies from their perspective rather than as an outsider as they would if the same scene was shown in a traditional cinema structure. She is also interested in creating situations where viewers have to make choices, such as in Disposition Matrix, a hallway filled with peepholes containing films, documents, and photographs where the viewer must choose what to focus on.
Poitras’s journalism and films have the ability to narrate complex foreign politics and capture the lives of individuals facing difficult circumstances. In My Country, My Country, the first film in her post 9/11 series, Poitras featured shots of reactions to the demise of the World Trade Center days after the attack. In her prologue to the 9/11 series, Poitras explained that reaction shots were chosen because of their ability to impact the viewer and evoke emotions better than focusing on a building that was no longer there. Her project Field of Vision (2013) created a means for people to leak audio and visual information on her website with instructions on how to do so safely. In 2016, her film Risk, profiling controversial WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, was released. Poitras continually puts herself at risk in order to report the news whether it is for traditional journalistic venues, her documentaries, or her new installations as her artistic career progresses outside of film. And while she has branched out into making work in a fine art context, she still continues to pursue her career as a journalist and filmmaker.
2012, Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
2011, O’Say Can You See, Ronald Feldman Gallery, New York
2014, 9/11 Trilogy, Artists Space, New York
2016, Astro Noise, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
- Praxis Films: ‘Citizen Four’, 2014, http://www.praxisfilms.org/films/citizenfour (accessed 12 Feb 2017).
- Poitras, Laura/Lee, Micah: ‘How to Submit to Field of Vision Securely and Anonymously’, Field of Vision, 20 Sept 2016, https://fieldofvision.org/how-to-submit (accessed 12 Feb 2017).
- Sanders, Jay, and others: ‘Astro Noise: A Survival Guide for Living under Total Surveillance’, exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2016.
- Praxis Films: ‘Laura Poitras’, 2017, http://www.praxisfilms.org/about/laura-poitras (accessed 12 Feb 2017).