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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), 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) 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,

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,  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, 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, 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, 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.

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