If you had to pick a pair of shoes that personifies you, what shoes would they be?
Artist Vicky Tesmer created a series of fine watercolors depicting a variety of Chicagoans wearing their shoes. This exhibit, “Portrait of Chicago” is up in the Chicago Cultural Center until January 10, 2020. Rappers, students, surgeons, nurses, businessmen, and yoga teachers are part of the array of Chicagoans depicted by Tesmer.
I love these works because of their simplicity. Just the shoes standing on the ground. Shoes that tell stories. Shoes that show the diversity of a city.
The hero of these images are the shoes. About half the paintings show just the shoes on the ground, the other half show people standing in their shoes.
In my opinion, the paintings people standing in the shoes are stronger than the empty shoes. People standing in the shoes gives the shoes more life—a sort of vitality that the shoes at any moment could start walking or jumping or sliding away.
The photos with people standing in their shoes felt like portraits—with a twist. With a standard portrait, the head is depicted. With Tesmer’s paintings, the reverse happens. The very bottom of the body is captured—the bottom of part of the legs and the shoes.
I like to imagine that the person in the portrait stood for a brief moment for the artist to take the reference photograph, and then they continue on their way.
With that spirit of the active shoes ready to move at any moment, the works I liked the most have a background that hints to something distinct in Chicago. The wooden L platform. The wheels of a CTA train. These are shoes of people in a specific place. The context brings further life and story to the activity of the shoes.
The captions are fun to read. The words help to illuminate the owner of the shoe.
Reading these captions, I constantly thought to myself, is this about someone specific? Or just about a general profession about someone in Chicago. I greatly desired each pair of shoes to belong to one individual person.
Seeing this series makes me want to photograph the shoes of people I know. That would make a fun personal series to have. I don’t imagine I’d do anything with the series, it would just be my own personal album of people I know, and one way of remembering the people in my life.
Shooting the photos with a rich HDR range of tones would really bring the textures to life. The textures in the shoes and in the place where the person is standing. I’m not sure if I would use a quick lens to give that soft feeling of objectness. Or if I would use a long lens to make all the details, including the background, to remain in tact.
The notion of place could be so important with the subject matter of these shoes.
Shoes are literally the things that ground us. Our shoes constantly interact with the land beneath us. Our eyes may look around. Our ears may hear what’s near. But our feet is what repeatedly touch the ground.