Portrait of a Reader—An Online Art Project | Nikki Gardner

Hi Friends, 

I’m doing this exciting new online art project, titled Portrait of a Reader, centered on books and digital camera captures (via short 1:1 video conference call) that I hope will bring people together during this strange time.

I would love for you to participate! Read the artist statement below which details the project. 

The above image is a sample photo, not what the project will ultimately look given that it will be in varied locations, but I wanted to offer a quick visual reference. 

To participate in the Portrait of a Reader Art Project, email me at: nikki@nikkigardnerphotography.com to schedule your session. I will email a model release for you to join the project along with a few helpful pointers for before and during our session. Don’t forget to bring your favorite book (print or digital format) to your session as well as your short favorite passage from the book.




I’ve had a Portrait of a Reader in the works for several months. Inspired by how books are depicted in portraiture throughout a short history of books in paintings, I wanted to explore both the idea of photographic portraiture including a sitter’s favorite book (thereby revealing a personal detail based on the chosen book)  and how a series of portraits might bind a community together, from their private reading spaces to a gallery showing of individual portraits. 

My original intention was to photograph individuals in a readerly pose holding a favorite book. Then the Coronavirus (aka COVID-19) entered the scene, requiring everyone to stay at home in order to help prevent the rapid spread of this novel virus. We are in uncharted territory as scientists work to create a vaccine while hospital beds fill up with patients already sick with the virus. As we practice social distancing, shelter in place, or in places severely hit, lockdown, I wondered how to move ahead with this project even as we moved farther apart from each other. 

Portrait of a Reader can help connect us to one another. The hope for this project is to bring people together in a world that feels more and more fractured by the speed and demands of not only our modern lives, but also the pandemic that has now forced us into individual containment. In light of our forced distancing, we need connection. Through books and communities of like minded people. I think this project is even more pressing as it shows how such forced physical distancing connects us in new ways, in this instance through a series of collaborative screenshot portraits—open, vulnerable, personal from artist to participant exchanging a dialog about a book.

What I hope this project will achieve:

  • Offer a sense of community in a disparate times
  • Reveal a glimpse into a person’s character through collaborative portraiture, book choice, and favorite passage
  • Connect those who love reading online 
  • Create an artistic collaboration between artist and participant
  • Illustrate the importance of books and art during this challenging time in our lives
  • Show how in times of crisis, books offer comfort, knowledge, connection, escape, love, and hope
  • Comment on the current state of books and how one holds a physical printed book in comparison to a digital copy on an eReaders 
  • How I plan to create this online project:

    I will use video conferencing software to connect with each reader. Each call session will be up to 15 minutes long.  Calls will be made during the day to take advantage of daylight hours. I will direct how I want the shot composed (close to an open window) and use screencapturing as my camera shutter. 

    Each participant will sign a model release in order to participate in the project and will receive the final image file I’ve chosen to be included in the project. The images will be displayed in an online gallery that I will set up for the project, along with the participant’s name, location in the world, book title in the photograph, and favorite (short) passage from the book. 

    When life returns to normal (as we are now fond of saying), I plan to show the work as prints in an art gallery that would also include a digital version of the gallery space, combining both spaces into one once it is safe to do so.

    If you would like to participate in the Portrait of a Reader Art Project, email me at nikki@nikkigardnerphotography.com to schedule your session. Don’t forget to bring your favorite book (print or digital format) to your session as well as your short favorite passage from the book.

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