The 2013 quilt show season is in full swing and recently an interesting topic of discussion was initiated among my friends. The issue at hand is whether to bring your camera to a quilt show and click away without inhibition or simply leave it at home.
I was interested in listening as it brought back a couple of personal scenarios where my work was on exhibit. One of these venues allowed photography, the other had signs posted that photography was not encouraged. In each venue I witnessed a particular visitor spending at least 15 minutes “glued” to the piece, point and shoot camera firmly in hand, inches from the fabric and embellishments and clicking away to their heart’s content. The first time this happened (at my fist solo exhibition in 2005 – photography was not allowed) I was very timid, moved closer and smiled to draw attention to the sign close to the quilt. During the more recent scenario I was more forthright, approached the piece and the person oblivious to anyone else around. I said “hello” with a smile, as we all know that a smile on one’s face will change the tone to non-threatening. It must have worked, the non-threatening part… I received no response. I dug deeper to gather more courage and said “I am the maker of the quilt. If you have any questions about techniques or materials, feel free to ask me.” The photographer turned just enough to look at me out of one eye, a little annoyed that I broke her concentration, whispered “It’s just beautiful…” and turned her full attention back to documenting every square inch of the work.
I have to be honest, I was a little taken aback. Don’t get me wrong, I have my work posted on my website, anyone can log in and download them. I also don’t oppose photography in general, but I do object to someone singling out one work and attempting to document every detail.
On the other hand I am comforted by the thought that each person will use her images for personal use only – or are they? I wonder how many visitors to quilt shows are so excited about innovative and traditional quilts that they capture countless images, go home and excitedly post all of them to their Facebook page, Pintrest board or their blog without providing any credit to the quilt maker? Let’s all examine our past history and question our sharing practices. Have you taken unobstructed pictures of full quilts and details in the past? Did you also capture the label for future reference and to provide credit to the maker?
I am not saying that taking pictures at quilt shows where photography is allowed should be stopped. But please, start looking at who made the work that has captured your attention. The images I posted today were taken at a quilt show I judged in Winnipeg, MB in April 2012. I have images of unobstructed quilts, complete with a shot of each label for future reference. I am sure you noticed that I posted images only of those quilts that have people in front and their faces are not easily recognizable. To post anyone’s image on line the photographer must have at least verbal permission!
Let’s move on to another possibility that occurred to me: A friend asked me why I judge quilts and why I went for the CQA/ACC Quilt Judge Certification in 2009. For me it was a matter of adding professional credentials to my CV, obtain more knowledge and gain valuable experience. My friend understood this and wondered if I get to take pictures of each quilt for my own reference in the future, or to maybe upload to my blog sharing what I judged.
This raised some red flags for me as I never even thought about such a scenario. Here is the truth: Judging is a very time and energy consuming activity. As a judge there is often no more time than 4 or 5 minutes to assess a quilt visually and physically inspecting outstanding technical achievements or possibly deficiencies, all the while formulating and dictating constructive feedback to the maker for a scribe to add to the entry form. Now imagine this for 100 to 200 entries… At what point would I be able to set up my camera for a picture?
My friend, who is much more forward thinking than I am pointed out that as a judge I would have time for a walk-through of the show before it opens to the public. How true, however, I responded that I have no right to photograph anyone’s work without a signed waiver/permission slip.
She didn’t want to give up, covering all the bases with her last inquiry: “But, it would be great to post images from a quilt show you judged on your blog or website for future judging stints!”
I had never even considered this option – and that is not because I don’t know how to promote and line up future judging opportunities. For the first time ever I paused and reconsidered. I was a little speechless but soon found the words I needed for my response:
“Taking pictures of quilts I have judged does not entitle me to post them on the internet to further my personal career! As a professional, certified quilt judge it does not matter how many beautifully executed quilts I have judged. I assess each quilt individually. I stay in the moment and do my best in formulating constructive critiques. This practice is the best calling card one can acquire. Quilt guilds talk among each other, organizers will pass on names of professional judges that have met and exceeded their expectations. My camera does not tag along on judging day. If I have the honor of staying on, I seek out the maker, ask them to pose with their quilt and ensure that I have their full name, contact info and explicit permission just in case I want to use the image in a future blog post. I still email before using the image to ensure the quilter has not changed her mind about granting permission initially.”
In closing I want to raise a couple questions of my own: What has happened to society? Has social media erased our inhibitions? Why do we think we don’t need permission to post someone’s photo on line?
I am concerned, despite using my blog as my main vehicle to promote my work, teaching and judging. I do believe that I employ social media tools in a responsible manner, refraining from bombarding readers with posts that waste time. It is my mission to educate, share and provide food for thought and a little entertainment. It’s a competitive world out there… feel free to weigh in and leave your comments and opinions. I realize I have raised a timely question – let’s see what you think!