CHRISTINA RILEY: BORN

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.

BORN- KickStarter
Christina Riley

DUMMY DOLDRUMS

As I have mentioned here (ad nauseum, I’m sure), these days I pretty much do the photography thing in order to discover and to learn.

The great thing about that is that I get to, well . . . I get to discover and learn. And once I’ve completed a project all I want to do is another. You know, more discovery, more learning.

But these days we must commodify our output, right? I mean, if we want a career in the photo-biz we’ve got to put at least as much time into careering as we put into creation. We’ve got to make the rounds and seduce (in our own way) the powers-that-be and the gate-keepers in order to get that exhibition, that grant, that acceptance.

So  . . .

I’ve been in the dummy doldrums. My current project is nearing its final shape and it kind of feels like I’ve gone through the peak-excitement phase of the process. But I realize I need to take this last project through, I need to fine tune it in preparation for its commodification.

The sequence seems (to my mind) set . . . now how do I turn it into a book? That’s what I’ve been working on, pecking away at yet another version of the dummy. But it’s inevitable that a designer be brought in to apply their expertise and show me things that have never crossed my mind.

One of the other things I’ve been doing to move this project towards completion is, I’ve been crafting a short, sharp, 250 word blurb that informs and intrigues. Not exactly an artist statement, more a prospectus.

Now, I like writing. I find that if approached in a certain way it can, like photography, show you something you didn’t know was there. And that’s happening with the writing I’m doing for this work, it’s teasing out some nuances I hadn’t noticed or thought about before.

But I don’t want the writing to give too much away. I’m pretty sure the work is able to speak for itself so the last thing I want to do is to direct, in any direct way, what folks should see in these photographs.

And I do want people to see this work, these photographs.

But I seem to always do this last bit, the publishing bit, grudgingly. The thrill of discovery is gone and all that’s left is the drudge work. I mean, sure, you get to fine tune and make stuff with your hands and deal with a million details.

But, really, I’d rather be out in the world turning over stones, seeing what kind of bugs crawl out.

 

QUARTER-FINAL DUMMY

It feels like I’m getting close to a final, or, realistically, a quarter-final dummy. Five thousand images have been whittled down to forty-six in a specific order. And, after a surprising amount of finagling, the text has been sorted, too.

I’m happy with the general look and feel, the flow of images and, for lack of a better word, the content. Now it seems that what’s left is a whole bunch of detail work (final design, fonts, format, image size, etc.).

The first dummy was made of 3×4 inch work prints slotted into the sleeves of a 5×7 album.

That served its purpose for about a week, a week of moving images from here to there in the sequence and some preliminary fine-tuning.  The images were too small, though, to show to anyone else, so I did it all again, this time using a standard print size of 5×7 inches in an 8.5×11 album. I also took this opportunity to fine-tune the prints a bit. Still not the final versions, but closer.

This is the dummy I showed to all sorts of people. Their feedback, and further thinking on my part, resulted in moving some images around, removing some  entirely and adding others. A general tightening up.

Then . . .

I had initially thought that each image should carry an equal weight, so all the prints in the dummy were the same size. But what would happen, I wondered, if I varied the size of the prints . . . what would that look like, how would it work?  And, what sizes should I use?

So I had another look at the dummy and figured out a strategy. I’d use the same sequence, but 3 different print sizes. Once that was decided it was sort of obvious which prints should be standard size, which should be bigger and which should be biggest.

So, as of today, this is where it stands. There will be more changes, but it’s beginning to feel quite tight, real right.


 Please note that drool. is completely searchable. If you want to read all the book-making posts just click on the pertinent key-word(s) near the top of the post (desktop) or at the bottom (mobile).

You can also use the search field to type in just about anything. That’ll show you a bunch of posts that are germane to whatever it is you typed in. (Try, for instance, typing “string theory, james joyce, richard avedon”.)