Photographer Turns Identity Theft into Art

Jessamyn Lovell, Surveillance, 6 (fence) (2013).
Photo: Courtesy the artist and San Francisco Camerawork.

A fascinating report in the San Francisco Chronicle recounts the story behind a show at SF Camerawork by a local photographer whose pursuit of the woman she says stole her identity became fodder for a new project. It all started five years ago, when the photographer, Jessamyn Lovell, had her wallet snatched from SF Camerawork. When she started receiving mysterious bills and a summons for a court appearance on theft charges, she realized her identity had been stolen.

According to the report, Lovell decided to turn her woes into a photo-based project, entitled “Dear Erin Hart.” The eponymous subject is the woman Lovell says used her ID and credit cards to impersonate her. Lovell used a private investigator to track down Hart and then she herself trailed the subject with her camera, frequently capturing her on film, entering and leaving various buildings, and going about her daily life.

Lovell tells the Chronicle: “This woman entered my life without my permission and then I used that experience without her permission to create something new.” Chronicle writer Sam Whiting described the gallery show as resembling “something from a cable TV show about CIA operatives,” including surveillance photos, mug shots, and arrest reports.

Hart served a year in county jail in 2011 for charges including Lovell’s identity theft case, as well as other crimes such as check fraud, forgery, and burglary. The report includes in-depth, often suspenseful details about Lovell’s pursuit of Hart, including waiting behind tinted windows in an SUV, following her in a car as she rode on a public bus, and pulling in behind her as she walked down the street. In several instances, Hart realized she was being followed and deliberately lost Lovell by “stepping into a maze of a building in the Mission.”

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