Michelle Bates is a Washington-based photographer who has shown her work at galleries across the US and internationally. She has taught photography at Photographic Center Northwest, Newspace, and International Center of Photography in New York, and as part of Artist Trust’s EDGE Professional Development Program. She received a Grants for Artist Projects (GAP) in 1998 and is a 2005 EDGE Program graduate.
On Saturday, June 9, Michelle will be leading “Documenting Your Artwork” at the Art Institute of Seattle. I recently caught up with her to learn more about her experiences working with artists and her advice for documenting work.
How did you first get interested in photography?
I had an interest as a kid, but didn’t really get a chance to learn anything until college, and even then it was just friends showing me a little darkroom work and shooting for the university newspaper. The summer after I graduated I ended up spending a couple of months at the Maine Photographic Workshops (now Maine Media Workshops). There I discovered the Holga, a plastic camera that has been my muse for all these years for my fine art photography. Later, I met some performers and began doing photos of them in action and in the studio. And then, when I was running an art gallery for Vashon Allied Arts (now Vashon Center for the Arts), I began documenting artwork donated to their annual auction, and from there got into working with artists to photograph their work.
What are some of the most common things you’ve seen artists struggle with when it comes to documenting their work?
There are so many parts of it, from how to get artwork lit correctly, to the background, focus, getting things straight, to what equipment you need to get the sharpness and high enough resolution for the images to really come to life. Also, almost no one has a handle on file sizes and image resolution.
What would you way is the most important thing for artists to understand when it comes to documenting their own work or working with photographers?
If artists want to work with a professional, then be sure to get what you want. In 3D work (sculpture), there is a lot of art in how the work is presented (less so for 2D work), so be sure to find someone you can work well with and ask for what you want. Doing it yourself, learn the basics (or have someone help you) and create a shooting set-up that is reproducible, so your images will be consistent over time. Either way though, document everything!
What advice do you have for artists who are interested in improving how they document their work but aren’t sure where to start?
There is (as with everything these days) lots of information on the internet, and books about documenting artwork. The most critical thing to get a handle on is the lighting. My most important tip: don’t mix light sources! And don’t think you have to go out and buy new, expensive equipment, but also, using your phone won’t give you the best results; equipment can be rented or borrowed or shared. This workshop is a great introduction for those who want to get a handle on all the elements that go into it.
Interested in learning how to create high-quality documentation of your work? Join Michelle for “Documenting Your Artwork” at the Art Institute of Seattle. Tickets and additional information can be found here.
Megan Gallagher is a writer from Redmond, Washington. She currently serves as Artist Trust’s Communications Intern.