I am often asked about how I take photos to use in my art quilts. This can be a slippery slope and I am always mindful of people’s privacy. Despite the fact that many people tell me they know someone in one of my quilts, I have never found it to be the case. This one, for example:
I cannot begin to tell you how many times someone tells me they know a person in this piece. Mostly, the man with his arms crossed. If this is the person everyone thinks he is, that guy sure gets around. But so far, I have not had anyone place him in the city where this was shot.
What inspires me to snap a photo is usually body language. I walk around with my camera looking for body language that tells a story, invokes a mood, or is so universally identifiable that anyone looking at the image will know exactly how that person was feeling. Faces are interesting to me, but body language says so much about these people we do not know. Look at the photo above, can’t you get a sense of what sort of person each of these are without even getting a clear look at their faces? That is what attracts me.
How do I take these photos? Mostly from a distance. I have a small but decent camera that has a telephoto lens built in. I set the camera at the highest resolution possible (listed in my camera menu as superfine or SF). This means I fit fewer images on a card (the memory card I use will hold about 200 of these high res images) but it also means I can shoot from far away and when I upload the image and crop in close to the figure, I don’t loose the resolution I need to blow the image up without losing detail.
Here is a good example. I was standing a fair distance away when I took this photo. I loved the man’s body language, with his arms outstretched and his feet firmly planted. At this distance I often cannot even see clearly what I am getting, and as I have mentioned in this blog before, sometimes I am surprised to find I was getting a dirty look or in one case, the finger.
But this image was originally over 8 MB which means I was able to crop in close to the man on the bench without sacrificing detail I was going to need. Here he is in fabric:
The other thing I am always aware of is either abstracting the face enough that it is not recognizable, as I have done here, or changing it so it isn’t even the same person anymore, as I did with this photo:
The woman in the red hat was far enough away that I was able to take the photo without her being aware of the camera (or me, I suspect). But after a little fabric magic, do you think she would recognize herself here:
Unlikely. What I needed from the photo were the basics I don’t want to reinvent–the perspective, the proportions, the light and shadow. What I was able to do on my own was a face in profile and sandals on her feet instead of sneakers. But even those I do with a photo as a guide. For the feet, I did an internet search for shoe sites and found a pair of feet in sandals close enough to what I needed, in the case of her profile, another image from another place served well enough. The result is a compelling image of a woman who doesn’t exist in real life, so I can’t be embarrassing her by making her image part of my artwork.
Most of all, I am always mindful of when I might be stepping over a line and invading someone’s privacy. If I am spotted, no matter how great that shot might have been, I put the camera back in my pocket and walk away. Often, I will stand with my camera and wait for the right moment, sometimes I will “stage” a shot that allows me to get what I want–this usually involves my husband (if he is with me) standing off to the side looking slightly irritated while I take his picture, but I am actually taking someone near him with out being detected. Sneaky? Yes. Rude? I don’t think so.
Having a camera with me most of the time means I am able to capture moments when I see them (although the shots that got away probably still outnumber the ones I get). The camera slips in and out of my pocket, or is around my neck while I snap a photo while appearing to just be resting my hand on the camera. Because it is the unaware, ordinary moments that I want to capture, as soon as someone is aware of the camera, the jig is up and I move on.
Always keeping in mind that I want to respect the privacy of the people whose images I use, I am still able to get what I need without stepping over any boundaries.