During the last three months of quarantining, photographer Tina Gutierrez has had a lot of time to work on how to visually represent her feelings about the COVID-19 crisis.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, I feel like I’ve been the most creative I’ve ever been in my life,” says Gutierrez, a fine art photographer and adjunct professor at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. “It’s allowed me time to work in a way that is the most satisfying.”
Her latest burst of creativity comes in the form of a wearable art portrait project in response to the coronavirus. Since mid-March, the Northside resident met nearly 100 subjects in parks and wooded areas around the city, photographing them in the elements from six to 10 feet away. Each subject’s outfit is supposed to represent how they feel about the virus.
“Regular clothing can be so homogenizing,” Gutierrez says. “Art through costume allows us to be heard and express in an extremely powerful non-verbal language.”
Anthony Buchanan, a bartender/server who lives in Northside, saw some of Gutierrez’s photos for the project on Instagram and wanted to participate.
“I am an empathetic dresser,” says Buchanan, a self-described “style enthusiast.” “It’s generally one of the first steps in me addressing my mental health for the day. Following the stay-at-home order, I had to find a different way of connecting to how I got dressed. I started looking for ways to feel both confident and comfortable.”
Buchanan notes that he felt it would be fun to show off soft, luxe-looking fabrics in a masculine or protective structure in his portrait. “I am a total sucker for any and all juxtaposition,” he adds.
Gutierrez asked Pam Kravetz, an art educator in Columbia Tusculum, to be a part of the portrait series at the beginning of the quarantine, but Kravetz says she didn’t have a story to tell until she realized she wouldn’t be able have an in-person party for her birthday.
In her portrait, Kravetz wears a party hat that says “Stay back 6 feet please,” a mask, a brightly colored jacket, her signature tutu, and her favorite beaded boots. She says her outfit represented “a celebration in the time of COVID.”
“Quarantine has not been creatively motivating time for me,” Kravetz says. “My work and my life are centered around people and interactions. When it was time for my birthday and thinking about celebrations lost I was inspired. The gift Tina gave me was not only the beautiful documentation of this fairy tale, but sparking my creativity in a time that I was struggling to be inspired.”
Madeleine Mitchell, a teaching professor who lives in Spring Grove Village, says she wanted to be a part of a community project that “celebrates the human spirit in the face of adversity.”
“I love a creative challenge and jumped at the chance to craft a persona/costume that expressed both the power and the vulnerability of human beings, the planet, and democratic ideals,” she says. “It was great to be outside and engaged in a new project after so many cold and house-bound weeks. I found the overall experience to be an energizing break from the stress and uncertainty which we are all living with.”
As Gutierrez set up for her photo, Mitchell found a blanket of vines and flowers lying on the ground, apparently left behind by landscapers clearing a nearby garden. The weeds became a whimsical addition to her costume.
Mitchell calls her portrait “Tempest-tost,” a reference to the Emma Lazarus poem The New Collosus. “I guess the photo is of some sort of mash-up warrior/earth mother/Statue of Liberty,” she says. “Battered but still standing.”
Gutierrez recently wrapped up shooting portraits and now plans to shop them around for an art exhibition, maybe even an art book.
“So deep and ancient is this language of decorating ourselves,” she says. “I think that those who didn’t participate by having a portrait done will feel a connection to the people in the portraits.”