In the wee hours of the morning at the beginning of the state’s shutdown in response to the COVID-19 crisis in mid-March, fine art photographer Tina Gutierrez began formulating a plan – create an art project that would let people share how they felt about the pandemic through clothing. And thus, her coronavirus wearable art portrait series was born.
For the last three months, Gutierrez met nearly 100 subjects in parks and wooded areas, photographing them in the elements as a way to measure time visually by the change in foliage. From six to 10 feet away, these amateur models posed and gave explanations of their outfits while being photographed.
For her portrait, Pamela Jean Shaffer of North Avondale chose a pink ballgown and a gas mask.
“Color is a life force,” she says. “Shocking pink. How can you not smile?”
And the gas mask?
“The gas mask speaks for itself,” she adds. “I appreciate its contrast to my mother’s prom dress. Seriousness and some frivolity. We need to find a balance.”
At the beginning of the project, Gutierrez, a Northside resident and an adjunct at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, put out a call for participants on Facebook but she also had some models in mind, like Suz Fleming of Westwood.
“It's a privilege to be asked to model for Tina,” Fleming says. “She's a great photographer and I was happy to get out of the house and get dressed up. It elevated my mood.”
She notes that her outfit choice – a striking gold and black swing jacket in a brocade pattern – was something a little fancier than what she had been wearing daily.
“I got into a rut of wearing T-shirts and yoga pants,” she explains. “Those are fine clothes, and in a way, may have been the true experience of the time I spent at home, so me dressing up in the middle of everything was maybe a giant irony — appearing to be fancy during a time of being the most unadorned.”
Fleming brought her dog, Bindi, who posed with her for her portrait.
“I felt special – though this probably sounds a bit silly — like I could be in one of those old paintings where people dress in their finest clothes and have their portrait made with their beloved pet,” she adds. “This felt not just like another photograph with my dog, but a precious experience that I am so happy to have been a small part of.”
Gutierrez, who wants to showcase the portraits in an art exhibition some time in the future and perhaps create an art book later down the line, says working on this project made her feel better and she hopes it had the same effect on all of the participants.
“For me, it was about being OK with the sadness and loss, and overcoming that through the creative process,” she says. “I’ve come to terms with doing this work for the love of it only.”To see more photos, visit www.tinagutierrezartsphotography.com.