Portrait of a Reader: A Collaborative Art Project

ARTIST STATEMENT: NIKKI GARDNER

PORTRAIT OF A READER—A Collaborative Art Project


I’ve had this Portrait of a Reader project idea 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 screen capturing 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.

PARTICIPANT GUIDELINES

In order to participate in this art project, the following are required:

  • Submit the signed Photo/Video release form below.
  • Answer the brief questionnaire.
  • You will need a web camera enabled device such as a desktop or laptop computer or a camera phone/tablet.

PHOTO/VIDEO RELEASE FORM

Thank you for participating in the Portrait of a Reader Art Project!

Please copy and paste the following into the message box to the right, along with your name, in order to participate. 

I grant Nikki Gardner permission of the irrevocable and unrestricted right to reproduce the photographs and/or video images taken of me, or members of my family, for the purpose of publication, promotion, illustration, advertising, or trade in any manner or in any medium. I hereby release Nikki Gardner for all claims and liability relating to said images or video for the use of the Portrait of a Reader Art Project. Furthermore, I grant permission to use my questionnaire  responses that were given during an interview or guest lecture, with or without my name, for the purpose of advertising and publicity without restriction. I wave my right to any compensation.


QUESTIONNAIRE

Please answer the following questions in the box on the right and send me your answers.

  • What is your name?
  • Where do you live (city & state)?
  • What is your favorite book?
  • Why is it your favorite book?
  • What is your favorite passage from the book?
  • Do you have a favorite place to read?

HOW TO PREPARE FOR YOUR VIDEO CONFERENCING CALL

Portrait of a Reader is an art project I started to connect through a shared love of books. 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 screen capturing as my camera shutter. 

I will use Zoom.us for the videoconferencing calls. I will email you the scheduled time/date and meeting ID number which is 380-813-2974. You can download the Zoom.us app to your desktop, laptop, or camera phone/tablet. Note: You do not need a Zoom account to participate. At the scheduled meeting time, simply launch the Zoom app and click “Join a Meeting” then type “380-813-2974” for the meeting ID number.

ON THE DAY OF YOUR CALL*

  • Camera Setup: If possible, set up your webcam device, camera phone, or tablet in front of an open window or open (front or back) door for the best light. You will face the light during the call so you’ll want to set up your device toward you. If you are working on a desktop computer that you cannot move, try to orient yourself so that the window is in front or to the side of you when looking at your camera. If there is direct sunlight falling on you, either move back a little or place sheer fabric over the window to diffuse the light. 
  • Stabilize your camera on a steady surface. If you are using a camera phone,you can stabilize your phone by using a tripod (if you have one, or creating your own with a large binder clip fastened to the bottom or side of your device, depending on which way I direct the shot (vertical or horizontal).
  • During the call, I will direct you as to where to place the camera, how to angle it, and how to frame the scene. I will also direct you into position, pose, and where to place your book, where to look, etc. Remember, this is a collaborative project in the sense that I am the film director and you are the camera operator. I am looking forward to our collaborative art making!

*These are general guidelines but will ultimately depend on your space, availability of light, and in the moment directorial decisions.

AFTER THE CALL

I will edit the images and choose the best one for the project. The images will be displayed in an online gallery. In the future, I also plan to show the work as prints in an art gallery that would also include a digital version of the gallery space. 

Once the online gallery is available, I will email you the web address to access and share. I will also send you a digital file of the image I include in the project.

Thank you again for your participation, love of books, and willingness to make art as a way to bring hope and joy in the world.

Wishing you peace and health,

Nikki Gardner

www.nikkigardnerphotography.com

nikki@nikkigardnerphotography.com


© Nikki Gardner 2022
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