Editing pictures with image manipulation software or a mobile app is not unheard of. An alienation of photos by needle and thread, on the other hand, is an intricate process. Los Angeles-based artist and photographer Diane Meyer has gained instant fame for her embroidered analog photos. In this interview, she talks about adding a new dimension to pictures as well as her source of inspiration and other projects.
Where did you get the idea to embroider pictures?
I was interested in combining a traditional, analog process with the visual language of digital imaging. Through experimentation with the process, I realized I could match the colors in the photograph and create the effect of pixelization. A long time ago, I was working on a series of landscapes using small squares of carpet remnants which also created a pixelated effect. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I think the embroidered photographs came from my original experiments using carpet remnants.
The process has developed into two different bodies of work. One series consists of images taken in Berlin and follows the path of the former Berlin Wall in the city center and the outer suburbs. The second series is based on snapshots and personal photographs taken at various times throughout my life and organized by location.
I have been working on the Berlin series since 2012. Sections of the photographs have been obscured by cross-stitch embroidery sewn directly into the photograph forming a pixelated version of the underlying image. The images were taken in the city center as well as in the suburbs where I followed the entire former 104 mile path of the Berlin Wall. In addition to the physical aspects that point to the former division of the city, I am interested in the psychological weight of these sites. In many of the images, the embroidered sections of the photograph represent the exact scale and location of the former Wall offering a pixelated view of what lies behind. In this way, the embroidery becomes a trace in the landscape of something that no longer exists, but is a weight on history and memory. As the embroidery takes the form of digital pixilation, I am making a connection between forgetting and digital file corruption. The embroidery emphasizes the unnatural boundaries created by the wall itself and provides a literal contrast to the concrete of the wall and a metaphorical contrast to its symbolism. The project explores the means by which photography transforms history into nostaglic objects that obscure objective understandings of the past.
In the series “Time Spent That Might Otherwise Be Forgotten,” cross stitch embroidery has been sewn directly into family photographs. The images are broken down and reformed through the embroidery into a hand-sewn pixel structure. As areas of the image are concealed by the embroidery, small, seemingly trivial details emerge while the larger picture and context are erased. I am interested in the disjuncture between actual experience and photographic representation and photography’s ability to supplant memory. By borrowing the visual language of digital imaging with an analog process, a connection is made between forgetting and digital file corruption. The tactility of the pieces also references the growing trend of photos remaining primarily digital- stored on cell phones and hard drives, but rarely printed out into a tangible object.
Did you take all the pictures included in the project yourself?
I took all the photographs in the Berlin series myself using a Mamiya 7 camera. For the piece, I followed the entire roughly 100 mile path of the Berlin Wall. I began the project in the winter of 2012 and returned in the Spring of 2013 to continue photographing.
The works in the “Time Spent that Might Otherwise Be Forgotten” series are a combination of landscapes that I have taken myself and old family snapshots that were taken during my childhood.
What cameras do you use? Which is your favorite and why?
My favorite camera to use is the Mamiya 7- I really like how easy it is to travel with, yet provides a large negative. I still prefer to shoot on film for both aesthetic reasons and (after having lost all of my music twice due to hard drive problems) I like having a physical negative that can’t get corrupted! I also like shooting with my Wista 4×5 camera, and if I am just sketching out ideas, a Canon G16.
Do you have any experience in analog photography?
Yes, I have done a lot of work with analog photography- including black and white darkroom photography, color printing and non-silver processes. I am a professor at Loyola Marymount University where I teach some darkroom course. It’s fun to watch my students start to get excited about working in the darkroom- many of them have never even used film prior to the class.
You are interested in the failures of photography.What do you mean by this?
I am referring to the divide between the photographic image and lived experience. Photographs frequently become stripped of their original context or meaning. Memory can be very porous causing the meaning behind photographs to change over time. Also, images are edited in a way that can change the reality of a situation- such as what is seen in family photo albums. The same is true today by the stories that people create about their lives when selecting which images to put on social media.
How do you choose the content of your pictures?
In the Berlin series, I walked or biked along the entire path of the wall, and tried to photograph in as many different neighborhoods or landscapes as possible. I wanted to find sites that would reveal the way the Wall divided neighborhoods and streets . In many cases, the embroidery is the same size and scale that the Wall had been. When composing the images, I had to be conscious of the fact that areas of the images would be sewn which caused me to have to compose the images a bit differently than I normally might. In the Time Spent That Might Otherwise Be Forgotten series, I am typically using snapshots taken at different points in my life.
What meaning does the alienation of the pictures bring to your current project “Berlin”?
Many of the images in this series are quite still and devoid of people (the exceptions being the Brandenburg Gate image with tourists photographing the site and one another and the re-enactors at Checkpoint Charlie). I wanted to focus on non-populated scenes to emphasize how the starkness of the Wall in the visual landscape. The embroidery provides a pixelated view of what lies behind the Wall, giving the outline of the Wall a translucent quality and pointing out the traces and hidden histories in the landscape.
What will be the topic of your next project?
I have a few more images from the Berlin series that I would like to complete. Im not certain exactly what my next project will be – my previous projects have been very diverse in terms of subject matter and even visual style and genre – for example, I have created a project in which I have photographed daily installations built in the sleeper car of a cross-country train, have completed several site specific installations, created a series of self-portraits of myself with various celebrity impersonators, and an oral history project on Los Angeles residents living without a car. In general, my work usually relates to place and trying create work that explores the physical, social and psychological qualities that make up certain sites. So, I guess my next project will relate to wherever I end up traveling to next.
Visit Diane Meyer’s website to see more of her work.