Taking Pictures – Photographs by Kristin McNamara Freeman

Something that is in the toolbox of most artists today is a collection of photos taken with a camera or one of the smaller devices commonly carried around these days. When reading Whitney Otto’s newest work of fiction, “Eight Girls Taking Pictures”, ISBN-13: 978-1451682724, there were instances when my thoughts traveled to an exhibit for which I did the data entry in Humboldt County, California in 1999. This exhibit was the result of a small research grant and was called “Shades of Humboldt”. It was a collection of photos brought to the exhibit organizer, copied and cataloged, showing historical times from the photo albums of folks who lived in the area. The family albums from which the photos were gathered served as a place for the family to gather and look at the collected photos. Here the wonder questions arose and families shared stories about the photos, about the people and the places they lived, worked and played. This was one way family history and tradition was passed on generation to generation. Story and image come together as the memory bank. A cloth was woven with the threads of these stories that wrapped around the family and kept them tied to the history of their people.

Then about ten years ago I viewed an exhibit of photos taken by Nellie E. Ladd who is known as the mining camp photographer of the Trinity Alps. After reading with great excitement the book about her photography, “Nellie E. Ladd: Mining Camp Photographer of the Trinity Alps, 1859-1922” ISBN: 978-0-87961-266-5.,  I went to see the area where she lived and took her photos. The last several mile stretch of the “road” to Old Denny was only accessed by foot.; still today this is a rugged, rough and challenging area in the Trinity Alps. My interest in the artistic drive that would push a woman to haul her equipment on a mule to this remote area in order that she could take her pictures has had me exploring photographers from the 1800’s through to this day. Historical records of women in towns along the Rockies often shows their occupation as photographer; clearly something that was an acceptable means of earning support in the rough and hard scrabble mining towns.

In the cities of Europe and America in the late 19th century art galleries held shows for painters yet there was no place in these exhibitions for photographs. A movement began in the late 1900’s of photographers who saw that the images in their camera lens were works of art and they began to seek ways of having those photographs exhibited. It was not until the time of  Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/stgp/hd_stgp.htm that photography began to be exhibited as an art form. Many of his photos were of his wife, Georgia O’Keeffe.

The photography of landscape was raised to a position of art most particularly by Ansel Adams (1902-1984) http://www.anseladams.com/ansel-adams-information/ansel-adams-biography/. He was a dedicated activist for environmental concerns and established himself as well as an artist with his camera.

Traveling to Washington, D.C. in 2005, one stop on my agenda was the American Museum of Women in the Arts. The exhibits were amazing and these is a fine collection of exhibit information on women photographers at the museum and a visit to the new and interactive website of the Museum, http://www.nmwa.org/

will provide a wonderful list of photography exhibits and retrospectives. Some of the exhibit titles are, Picturing Progress: Hungarian Women Photographers 1900–1945, Portraits of Women by Women , 2006 Defining Eye: Women Photographers of the 20th Century , 1999–2000 Preserving the Past. These is so much to see here and learn about photography as art. Photography as art is now a phrase that is familiar and represents the inclusion of photography in most art museums and exhibits.

Often folks who create art in fiber have expressed the challenges faced when entering work into the art world, not just in venues for fiber art. The parallels between the rise of photography being accepted for art exhibitions and that of fiber art seem clear as I look at the history of photography as art. Each year there are more textile artists writing about their acceptance into exhibits which are art based and inclusive of many media.

Some of the textile artists I follow who use their camera and photography in the making of their textile art, along with their web addresses are:

Sue Reno, www.suereno.com/  Her work includes a series of photos on cloth; the series, “Watt and Shand” includes many photos on cloth as does her “Silk Mill series. Sue has masterfully used photo on cloth as and integral part of her designs. A visit to view her works will show you some creative and imaginative use of the photograph in textile art. Sue has been included in many art exhibitions that were not specifically for artists who work in textiles and she has won many awards with her fine work.


Virginia Spiegel, http://www.virginiaspiegel.com/ Virginia uses photographs in her “Boundary Waters” series and also in her “Quetico Journal” series. Virginia explores texture, color and image with her heart for the preservation of the environment clearly expressed in her art. She has exhibited widely and is recognized as an artist who works in fiber.


Although the words I have written may sound like those I wrote for Sue’s work, her style and use of the photograph in her work is individual and quite different. What I see in showing you links to the work of both of the fiber artists is that the medium, photography, has found individuation in the work of each artist choosing to incorporate it in their textiles.


Hollis Chatelain, http://www.hollisart.com/ Hollis makes amazing, richly thread stitched whole cloth quilts that incorporate many photos she has taken. She Uses the photos as the basis for her designs and pushes the process of interweaving one image into another and another to the point of perfection. Her work is recognizable as one of the masters of the use of photographic image in quilt making.


Gloria Hansen, http://www.gloriahansen.com/ Gloria has been exploring and designing with the use of manipulation of the digital photography she takes. She has won awards for her work and has written books on using digital photography in the creation of textile art. “Digital Essentials” and “Gloria Hansen: An Evolution in Stitches, Paint and Pixels”.

Whether a photo provides a color scheme for a work,  inspires a work, or is the source of the design, the camera and resulting photographs are an intrinsic part of the creation of textile art for many artists today.

The International Quilt Festival has recognized the important connection of photography to quilters and has at their festivals an exhibit entitled “The Eye of the Quilter”. Looking at the exhibited photos the viewer can see the inspiration for and design elements often used in the making of quilts. Whether the photographs are printed on cloth, digitally altered and used as design templates or the inspiration for a design, photography is now a usual tool in the container we who work in fiber call our toolbox.

Late summer blooms in the garden are a great place of inspiration to begin to fill that toolbox.

August 11 2012 329 DSC_0102 DSC_0364 DSC_0105 DSC_0127


8 Responses to “Taking Pictures – Photographs by Kristin McNamara Freeman”

  1. 1 Virginia A. Spiegel December 23, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    Olga, Thank you for including my work as an example in your most interesting essay. I use photography as a daily way of “seeing” and enjoy it as an art form in its own right also.

    • 2 olganorris December 28, 2013 at 3:15 am

      Hi Virginia, thanks – but this essay is not mine, and your thanks are due to Kristin. It is interesting how many of us do use photography now as an adjunct to our eyes, as well as a most convenient alternative sketchbook/notebook.

  2. 3 Sue Reno December 8, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    I was surprised and delighted to find my work mentioned here–thank you! I enjoyed your analysis of of the subject, it provided a lot of food for thought. My own use of photography continues to evolve and develop, but I am primarily enamored by the cyanotype process, which is a very old technology that I still find fresh and exciting.

  3. 4 june December 2, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    As I close down my textile studio, I’ve been thinking about the way textile and quilted art has grown and matured over the years. Clearly, as Kristin and Olga have noted, photography has become integrated into the work of many fine (in all senses of the word) textile artists.

    This fits with other tools that have become acceptable. The use of fusible webs was first seen as somewhat outrageous but then became accepted and integrated in the work of many good artists. Raw edge applique next appeared. Then there were foils and sequins, lots of bling, etc. Hand-dyed fabric, particularly low-water dyed work, was being used by everyone for a while, and then kept by some, dropped by others. Along the way, stipple quilting was new and then old and then free-hand quilting, sometimes patterned, sometimes not, grabbed the artists. Then batting started to slip and disappear from the “sandwich”, so the whole concept of quilted art got shucked by some.

    My looking at my own work (which pretty much stopped in 2007 or 2008) and at the work which came after me is to conclude what many in other fields have concluded before me: the best artists make use of available tools to their advantage, ignoring those that don’t enhance their imaginations. The tools and their visions thrive on the combinations. The rest of us may move on to whatever the next latest thing is, but some of our contemporaries widened and deepened their work through the tools they found and pushed those tools until what came from them was unique to their own voices.

    It’s been wonderful to watch how each “generation” of textile and quilting artists move through the changes, some grabbing hold and not letting go of what arose, others continuing on until they were grabbed by a newer process or tool and found it worked perfectly for them.

    We need a history of contemporary quilting that explores the newfangled tools (whatever they may be) and the masters who pushed the tool to its furthest possibilities. Photography is just the latest. I wonder what’s next.

    Thanks, Kristin, for reminding us of all that came before textile artists took it up — and for the fine artists who have grabbed and kept hold, using the tool to perfect their own imaginative creations.

    • 5 olganorris December 3, 2013 at 5:47 am

      Interesting what you say June about the Textile Artist’s toolbox. This morning I was reading Joanna Mattera’s review of the Miami Art Fairs in the SDA Journal Fall issue (http://www.surfacedesign.org/newsblog/latin-american-fibers-fall-2013-surface-design-journal scroll to the bottom of the page) which said that textiles seem very much to be in evidence in the Artist’s toolbox now. So much so that artists who were formerly described as textile artists have dropped the adjective.
      Also in reading the very last issue of Textile-Forum magazine that perhaps somewhat to the editors’ dismay the art world is adopting parts of the textiles world for its own ends – the example of artists employing the form of tapestry without ever having been weavers is cited.
      Really, I guess, it’s as you say: a case of artists simply using the best means at hand to make the best work they can. But meantime there is also always a place for the brilliant studio crafts folks who strive for their kind of perfection by sticking to their knitting, or pottery, or baskets, or photography, or quilts, or printmaking, or papermaking, or ….

      • 6 june December 3, 2013 at 12:07 pm

        “But meantime there is also always a place for the brilliant studio crafts folks who strive for their kind of perfection by sticking to their knitting, or pottery, or baskets, or photography, or quilts, or printmaking, or papermaking,”

        What would we be without those striving for perfection in their own studio crafts, teaching us all the infinite varieties of beauty? Indeed, indeed, Olga.

        A whole new concept of “sticking to their knittin'” — one my feminist foremothers would have to get their minds around:-)

  4. 7 olganorris December 2, 2013 at 4:05 am

    Thank you Kristin for nudging me to look specifically at artists who use both photography and fibre in their work. I suspect that many use photographs as part of the design process, but which do not show obviously in the finished work. Photography, as you say, has become a ubiquitous part of looking, or at least a means of note taking for so many of us.
    As well as those you mention, some artists I have encountered over the years who use photography prominently are Joan Truckenbrod, http://joantruckenbrod.com/, Lia Cook http://www.liacook.com/works/, Carol Shinn http://www.carolshinn.com/, Luanne Rimel http://www.luannerimel.com/, Melissa Zexter http://www.melissazexter.com/ – and I am sure there must be many more.

    I was particularly moved by the way Joanie Gagnon San Chirico used photography in her Ghost Houses http://www.joaniesanchirico.com/553108/ghost-houses/ I am not sure whether stitch was involved in these, but she has used stitch in other works.

    I certainly look forward to seeing more examples that others come up with.

    • 8 snicklefritzin43 December 2, 2013 at 8:06 am

      Olga, I appreciate your comments; my selection of just four artists to use as examples of how photography has become so important to people creating work in fiber was put in the text specifically as a mental nudge to get readers thinking about and exploring others whose work uses photography within the work or for other aspects of the creation of the work. Photography has, indeed, found a strong position of place in the textile artist’s toolbox.

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