Image Gallery: A Stitch in Time

A selection of artists who use old methods and imagery for a contemporary ethos (images below)

Curated by Beatrice Thornton

Through the material combination of photography with sewn threads and fabric, the artworks exhibited in this Issue’s digital gallery not only pictorially alter the surface of photographs, but present the medium in contexts at once foreign and deeply rooted in the history of both photography and textiles. This intertwining also creates a duality of time. We sense the distance of the past through nostalgic imagery, traditional craft, and artifacts of old technologies; yet we comprehend these as cultural representations of something contemporary, something new.  

Melissa Zexter, a New York-based photographer, realized one day that sewing onto photographs could visually recreate the existing images. Zexter worked in the photography department of the Associated Press before committing full-time to her own artistic practice. To make her embroidered works works both with film and digital photography, which she prints in large formats, and then, overtop, adeptly stitches whimsical patterns. Her subjects range from intimate family portraits to landscapes, as well as the three-dimensional, such as an embroidered and crocheted dress, on view this spring at Parsons’ Shiela C. Johnson Design Center’s exhibition Workwear/Abita di Lavoro.

Based in Phoenix, Arizona where she has lived her entire life, the artist Annie Lopez first came to art through photography when she picked up a camera at the age of thirteen. In her recent work, she has been implementing the early cyanotype process to print onto fabric and stitch together beautifully crafted dresses, each one telling a story through its intimate imagery including a combination of portraits and documents. By printing and stitching together evidence of her own life through the cyanotypes, Lopez creates a dialogue between the documentary nature of photography and the autobiographic material forming the fabric of the dress. Her printed paper dress “Medical Conditions” (2014) is currently on view through April 24 in Cyanotypes: Photography's Blue Period at the Worcester Art Museum. The antiquated process and old-fashion typeface evoke the past.

New York artist Keith Smith incorporates photography, often using cyanotypes as well as other methods of transferring images onto cloth. In his fabric works and books (he is a skilled bookbinder) dating from the 1960s and 1970s, sewing and the quilting become a way for him to connect time through the metaphorical stitching of photographs onto fabric. One of Smith’s books including e photographs stitched in a quilted design onto a page, is currently in the Morgan Library Museum’s exhibition Sight Reading.

Maurizio Anzeri, a London-based Italian artist, has been making what he terms “photo sculptures,” since the late aughts. To craft these unusual and mysterious works, Anzeri sews multi-hued geometric and intricate patterns onto found images from magazines and vintage black and white portraits. These compositions often concentrate the embroidery around a subject’s face, accenting particular gestures and expressions, or even entirely obscuring the entire head and face. The nostalgic quality of the found photos become reinvigorated, almost futuristic or even alien, with the vibrant overlay of densely sewn threads. He employs embroidery as a means to conceal identity, also taking inspiration from human practices of adorning the body with symbols and patterns. 

Image Credits:

Images 1-5
Melissa Zexter
 - School Girls, ca. 2013, gelatin silver print, embroidered thread, 20 x 24 inches
 - Maid 2, 2011, gelatin silver print, thread, 20 x 24 inches (Verso/Recto)
 - Woman with Veil, 2013, thread, digital print, 17 x 22 inches
 - Dress (and detail), ca. 2015, handmade consisting of hand-embroidered photographs and knitting on top and back

Images courtesy Melissa Zexter

Image 6
Annie Lopez
Medical Conditions, 2013, cyanotype printed on tamale wrapping paper

Images 7-9
Keith Smith
 - The Miller Boys, 1970, blueprint on paper, machine-sewn to cloth, 7 x 8 inches
 - The Orange Grove Baby Quilt, 1970, cyanotype on cloth, machine-sewn onto satin, 43 x 38 inches
 - Miss B, 1971, color scan heat transfer to cloth with hand stitching, 23 x 28 inches

Images courtesy the artist and Bruce Silverstein gallery

Images 10-12
Maurizio Anzeri
 - Jenny, 2015, embroidery on found photograph, 7 x 5 inches
 - The All Family, 2015, embroidery on found photograph, 16 x 20 inches
 - I Will Be With You The Night Of Our Wedding, 2015, embroidery on found photograph