Military fatigues may be the best way to blend into a jungle environment. But what about suburban underpasses? Metro stations? Running tracks? Even cross-country coach buses? Those require a bit more chameleonic improvisation.
A new photo series called Knitted Camouflage, by photographer Joseph Ford and knitter Nina Dodd, imagines a world where lovingly hand-knit garments can blend humans right into their everyday environments. So whether it’s a street artist whose tangerine sweater blends in seamlessly with his giant spray-painted cat, or a runner who lays in the middle of a track with a perfectly curved, white line running right across her belly, the scenes will give you an uncanny respect for the art of knitting.
The project actually began as a single image. Ford and Dodd collaborated on a photo of a man knitting on the bus. His crimson sweater was crafted to match the vehicle’s upholstery perfectly, which leaves you scratching your head at the odd scene–you wonder if he’s so inspired by his surroundings that he’s knitting himself a top to match. The photo came out so well that Ford and Dodd decided to build it out as a whole series, which would take four years to complete in full.
“I took a long time working out locations and choosing models, and then had to work out what exact position I wanted them to take for the majority of the images. Then Nina had to calculate how to implement the design, which was very time-consuming,” says Ford. “Since the models had to blend into the backgrounds perfectly, the way Nina knitted determined how they could sit or stand relative to their environment. This meant working out in advance what camera angle I would use.”
Ford had to essentially set up the entire photo before the real shoot ever happened. In this pre-session, Dodd taped over the model’s shirt or pants, making precise marks in masking tape so that her sizing and angling of the pattern was perfect. Then she’d have to plan and knit the completely custom pattern on her own, which the model would wear at a second photo shoot.
“There were several locations where I wanted to photograph that would have been too complicated to knit,” says Ford. “No failures though–it was pretty clear from the outset whether a location would work well or not.”
Even though there were no failures, one shoot, in particular, was more painstaking than the others. The photo of a man wearing a tiled blue cardigan required 40 hours of design and hand-knitting alone. It’s enough to make you wonder, should Ford and Dodd have just faked the whole thing? A clone stamp tool along with a bit of texturing could have Photoshopped these scenes in a fraction of the time. But of course, that wouldn’t be the same. These images work, in part, not because they’re perfect, but because they’re ever-so imperfect, and those imperfections hint at the heroic efforts in wool behind them. And besides, faking the images wouldn’t have been half as fun for the duo behind them.
“There are lots of Photoshopped images out there,” says Ford. “Knitting is an artisanal medium, and it’s satisfying to do things for real. It was a way for us to work together with our own fields of expertise to create a collaborative series that went beyond what we could have done individually.”