Hidden Talents: Digital Artist

Tina Riedel captures everyday moments in her photography, and takes a painterly approach to making photo collages on her computer

art work with digital collage

In this occasional series, Tufts Now highlights the hidden talents of Tufts faculty and staff.

Tina Riedel knew it was dangerous, but did it anyway: she took pictures from a moving car, driving with her right hand on the steering wheel, left hand holding a camera out the window. That way she could get snapshots of people as you might see them in a quick sideways glance: un-posed, natural, off guard.

The photos are refreshingly direct, slices of everyday life in the Boston area: men strolling on sidewalks, children looking out storefront windows, a mother and child waiting at a bus stop.

“Late for the Funeral,” July 2011, photograph by Tina Riedel“Late for the Funeral,” July 2011, photograph by Tina Riedel
That was a few years ago, and Riedel, who is a senior web developer and technical writer for Tufts Technology Services, doesn’t take pictures from her car anymore—probably all for the best. But she continues to pursue her main artistic interests, which center on manipulating digital photos.

Using Photoshop, she combines new photos with family pictures, maps and satellite images, layering them and then erasing portions to reveal what is underneath, playing with color and size. (See her portfolio on her website.)

Riedel calls her work digital collage, though she sees similarities to painting, concerned as she is with patterns, space and color. “When you’re working on a painting, you’ll go along for a while and then you’ll get an appetite for a particular color,” she says. “Collages are similar, in that once I start creating them, I get a sense of the type of image I want to go with.”

“Guarding Eastern Standard Time,” 2010, digital collage by Tina Riedel“Guarding Eastern Standard Time,” 2010, digital collage by Tina Riedel
The results are striking, and sometimes mysterious. In one collage, a man sits at a desk with a map of the eastern United States behind him and a pay phone nearby; a trailing ivy vine overlays part of the image. In another, two older women—or is it the same woman?—sit in a coffee shop booth, one sipping coffee and the other holding a $20 bill, apparently ready to pay, while a clothesline flutters overhead and a bucolic scene unfolds out a window.

Twin Passions

Growing up in East Cleveland, Riedel loved making art, and pursued her interest in college, earning a B.F.A. from Indiana University. After graduation, she found work at a local company that produced stained glass. She designed windows, cut glass and built the windows. After seven years, she moved to Boston, doing the same kind of work.

Tina RiedelTina Riedel
But after a decade in the business, the economy went south. Stained glass windows became a luxury, and orders fell off. Riedel retooled her career, and got a job working for a print shop in Harvard Square. What she loved best, she says, was taking the printing press apart to clean it, figuring out how it was made and then putting it back together.

Working on the machinery helped her see herself in a new light. “I had thought that if I wasn’t painting, I was useless,” she says. “But for the first time in my life, I realized I might have skills in something else.” While still working as a printer, she went back to school to learn about computers. She had found a new passion.

She changed careers, and continued to paint. Then she and her partner, already parents of a daughter, adopted a second child at four days old, and it quickly became clear that the child was severely disabled—she was hospitalized 18 times in her first year. For the next decade, Riedel focused on family and work, unable to find time or energy for her art.

“Driving DNA,” 2007, digital collage by Tina Riedel“Driving DNA,” 2007, digital collage by Tina Riedel
But in about 2005, she began working on digital collages. Soon she was bringing her camera with her everywhere, shooting 20 to 100 photographs a day, and eventually she took those drive-by pictures.

Riedel is happy to have found a way to connect her twin passions of art and technology, and remarks that there’s true common ground between them. Both, she explains, are about analysis. For technology, that means understanding systems, and for art, it means thinking about how shapes and colors interact.

Yet despite her penchant for analysis, her approach to art isn’t always linear, she says, and maybe that’s why it’s so interesting. “As in life,” she writes on her website, “I sometimes think I know where I’m going from the start, but pieces rarely end up where I thought they would.”

Marjorie Howard can be reached at marjorie.howard@tufts.edu.

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