We all hold some idealized vision of what it means to be a mother and how we are supposed to regard that state. We’ve all been told that Motherhood is sacrosanct.
But nothing is holy unless you are a fundamentalist. And fundamentalism leaves no space for nuance, for alternate views. Things are always more complicated that any idealized version would have us believe.
With her second book, BORN, Christina Riley dares to question what it means to be a mother. Or, rather, what it means for her to be a mother.
BORN takes place during Christina’s first year of motherhood. It’s a record of her feelings of loss of self, and the contradictions she felt between what we’re told a mother is supposed to feel and what she was actually feeling.
I asked her some questions about making the photos and the costs and benefits of making work so personal.
She is doing a KickStarter to publish BORN. Here’s the link to that, and a great video where she lays it all out, so honest and true. I hope you will support this work.
Tell me a little about the genesis of, and the motivations behind, BORN.
When I became pregnant in 2013, it came as a little bit of a surprise. I had a lot going on in my life with music and photography… was there room for a baby? Some people are filled with joy and excitement upon finding out they are expecting, but I felt mostly anxious and unsure.
I knew from my past experiences, photographing myself in my life really helped me adapt and understand my situation better. It was able to give me an outside perspective that I could study and think about, distract me from the more difficult, confusing feelings going on in my head. So upon realizing I was going to do it – have a baby, I started right away photographing myself, my changing body and the way the world looked to me. The process was comforting; shooting, editing and sharing.
Right into labor I was taking pictures. Obsessed. And it continued on since my daughter’s birth, into her first years. I think being a very curious person attributes a lot to my motivation with photography. I was determined to document my strange experience through such a “normal” and “natural” thing, that really felt everything but.
Nothing can really prepare you for how you will feel or deal with the sudden change of life. I felt so alone, overwhelmed, sad, frustrated and scared, but at the same time, so much love. I never heard of how upsetting and confusing it could be. Everyone in my life always made it seem easy, beautiful and fulfilling. Feeling lost and alone really motivated me more to keep shooting, to keep searching for solid ground, for a new me. Once I realized I really had something to say, a window into a reality people don’t often advertise but commonly experience, I was motivated to share it and connect.
You talked about motivation and how you went about getting the photos. Can you connect those two things? What would cause you to think, “I need to shoot this”? What were the critical moments you mention?
In general when I’m living my life, I have a tendency to think photographically. I sort of have this awareness that what I’m doing in the moment could make an interesting photograph that would communicate my feelings. I kind of see it from an outside perspective. An example of a critical moment would be times where I felt like I was really losing it, at the edge of what I could handle. I think this awareness, or ability to see and document myself in this way spawned from my previous work, Back To Me.
Why do you think your work is so raw, so bare?
Throughout my life I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve, which I think naturally carried into my personal work with photography. Why hide what is real and true?
After going to college, assisting then shooting professionally, I moved away from my close family and friends to California. I believe not having distractions or much support for a while really gave me the opportunity to experiment more with the medium as a tool of expression and therapy. Having to deal with bipolar disorder from a young age has naturally made my life emotionally tumultuous at times, therefore the rawness of my experience is impossible to avoid. By sharing myself / my life in an open and honest way, I’m able to understand myself and be understood, which is something I have struggled with forever. Photography really helps with that.
What kinds of feedback do you get from these projects? And does that feedback help you to further understand where you’re at, or do the comments you receive just confirm what you already know?
I always get curious about how the projects will be received. Some people who have viewed Born and my previous book, Back To Me, have mentioned how much they can relate to the work – that in a way, it’s reflective of their own experience in life. That type of comment is nice because it’s a reminder that I’m not alone in the emotions that at times make me feel guilty and isolated. Although feedback is important and motivating, it’s not the driving force for me.