Teresa Christiansen is a photographer and teacher currently based in Portland, OR.
BA: Describe the first photographs you remember making.
TC: What I remember most about the first photographs I made with a long flat black plastic camera is not the images taken, but the anticipation of dropping off film the first day back from summer camp. The time of waiting, the painful days following withdrawal from friends and outdoors, back in the concrete reality of New York City. Sitting on my bed and flipping through the stacks of 4x6 prints for the first time brought the high of reactivated memory, like hearing a well worn song from a long ago phase of life. It is a sensation that still drives me to shoot film, to feel that childish excitement when I first see the images after weeks of taking them. Instantly viewable, digestible, and forgotten images dominate photography now. I think much of my work recently in which I find ways to print photos, handle them, and look at them again is an attempt to return to the time when photographs were tangible precious objects.
One of the themes in your work is the tension between real and the representation of the real. You've worked with both video and photography. Which one do you think it closer to "reality"? Which one is closer to representation of reality?
Video as a medium can often be closer to reality in the sense that it conveys experience through duration, which is lost in a still image. Yet in each piece I have made with video I find ways to mediate it and remove it from reality. I’ve used green screens to place fantastical backgrounds behind subjects, dubbed voices, and inserted multiple frames into one so that clips from many different contexts are playing simultaneously. Although photography can also be used to convey reality through documentation, I am most interested in the role images in general (both photos and video) take on in our lives as they re-present reality and mediate our experience. In today’s culture we spend increasingly more of our time looking at and interacting with images on screens than we do engaging with our immediate environment. We live a filtered existence in which our reality is based on re-presentation, several steps removed from the “actual” physical thing, event or person that we are interacting with. This mediation and the blurred boundaries between the represented and the real are what has spurred much of my recent photographic work, particularly the series Real Artifice.
|Teresa Christiansen, Landscape No 8, from Real Artifice|
There's a difference between the photos on your blog (reality based) and your website (conceptual). If you were marooned on a desert island which group would you take with you?
The photos on my website are at the heart of my creative practice; they have emerged from an inner dialogue and personal growth. They represent my "work", and although I often re-contextualize their grouping and presentation, I could never part with them and would have to choose these over the images on my blog. Those photographs are definitely more reality based, and tend to be straight photos taken outside of the studio. They are an essential part of my practice, and define my relationship to photography, from which much of my conceptual work then grows. The blog is my place to store them for contemplation. Photos get lost now in the digital world, and it is nice to have somewhere to put the ones that often will never be realized in print form.
Your website projects are all clearly delineated by date. How important is the date as a piece of information in considering a photo?
The year of creation of the work is important to me because it refers to a process based practice. Each piece I make informs the next. I see my work in a chronology, constantly evolving and relating back to itself. I also think the date is an important piece of information for a viewer in considering a work of art contextually. Photography especially is a medium that reinvents itself, and I consider my work to be an active voice in the discussion of contemporary developments within the medium.
Who do you consider the audience for your work? The general public or other photographers? Or someone else?
|Teresa Christiansen, from Trace Psychedelia|
I love Trace Psychedelia. What is your experience with psychedelic drugs?
The word "psychedelia" in the series title refers less to drugs than to the genre of music and art associated with that term. I also wanted to allude to the experience of seeing everything in immense detail through a heightened perceptual state of mind. I experienced this when I first moved to Portland after living in New York City my entire life. During my first spring here, I walked around with my camera, in awe of the dense greenness of everything. I painted onto the surface of the photographs that I took not only as a way to recreate this experience and the excitement I felt about being in a new place, but also as a way for me to put my photography in dialogue with painting. As an undergraduate I studied painting, and when I started this project, it had been a long time since I had painted. I felt the need to pick up a paintbrush and participate in a tangible process. I had begun to ask some large questions in my mind about photography, which were best answered by giving it a way to interact with other mediums.
What brought you to Portland?
After living in New York City my whole life (minus 4 years of college in Maine), I reached a point where I was ready for some space - physically and mentally. Two years out of graduate school, I missed not having a studio, and I felt I needed a major change in order to make new work. I had been working at the Metropolitan Museum in their Photography Studio for nine years, and after teaching a class at the International Center of Photography I wanted to pursue teaching. I was lucky enough to find a job at Pacific Northwest College of Art where I am an Assistant Professor, teaching Photography and Foundation classes, and Manager of their Digital Print Studio, which for me is like going to an amusement park every day.
How do you characterize the Portland photography scene?
|Teresa Christiansen, Campfire on the Oregon Coast, from There Now|
How do you characterize the Portland photography scene?
In terms of what is being publicly displayed, the Portland photography scene that I have come in contact with so far in my two and half years here seems to be concerned with skill and craft more than conceptual ideas. There are exceptions to that of course, and I am sure there is photography being made that is not getting shown, so I am hoping that will change and that venues become established for photography that is taking risks and thinking outside of its conventions. I really enjoyed Terrain Shift at the Lumber Room this winter, especially the body of work by Corin Hewitt, which was made while he was in residence here. I am seeing a growing group of photographers engaged with critical thinking through photography, and hope to meet more.
Why do you think Portland is not concerned with conceptual photography? Is it something in the Northwest character? Or something you generally expect in smaller cities? Something particular to Portland?
I think this trend stems from the history of West Coast photography and its roots in straight photography that functioned in opposition to East Coast Pictorialism. Photographers who documented the landscape of the American West, such as Ansel Adams and his San Francisco group f/64, were concerned with images that were sharply focused and provided perfect details of the terrain they captured. I still see a great amount of landscape photography being made here, as well as images that are rooted in this tradition. I think the lack of presence of conceptual based photography in Portland galleries may be due to representation of what is being made here, but it must also come from a market that does not exist for conceptual photography. This would be a question to research further with gallery owners and art dealers here. The places that I've seen exhibit conceptual photography are those that can afford to take risks, either because they are funded independently (The Lumber Room), or more of a DIY effort and functioning free of market demands (Nationale, Appedix).
You had a photo in the recent Newspace show Photography At The Edge. Tell me about three other photos in the show which made a strong impression on you.
|Melanie Flood, Untitled|
Melanie Flood is a friend whose work inspires me, and the Untitled print she has at the Newspace show is a recent result of her rigorous studio practice. You’ll know which one it is because it’s the brightest image in the room: a cardboard rainbow hovers over a deflating inflatable airplane balanced on top of a cement block with confetti scattered across the foreground. The backdrop is the same bright orange as the airplane. The image is incredibly playful, and speaks to the practice of working (playing) in the studio and using the camera to explore concepts rather than reflect reality. I see her work as pushing the boundary of photography by using it to engage with other media, such as sculpture.
Cory Rice’s image Untitled (from Intermissions) is an analog photograph of a computer screen. The image is of an unmade bed in the corner of an empty blue bedroom. The artist statement tells us that the image is taken from a moment when someone who has been performing a strip tease for the computer camera has left the frame. For me this image and the series it belongs to is interesting because it engages with some of the same thoughts that inspire my work. Screens mediate our experiences such that they become the window onto much of how we live our lives. By using the camera as a means to add another layer to this filtered existence, Rice uses photography to draw attention to how we digest images.
|Buzzy Sullivan, One Year of Sunrises August 15, 2010 - August 15, 2011|
A simple gesture towards how photography can be used to challenge conventions of the medium is Buzzy Sullivan’s One Year of Sunrises August 15, 2010 - August 15, 2011. As the date suggests, the image is the result of leaving the shutter open for a full year, challenging the “decisive moment” in an image. The photograph is dappled and streaked in light, with cyan tones and a large black form in the shape of a twisted tree taking up most of the image. It appears more like a painting than a photograph, and reminds me that a photograph is simply an imprint of light.
What music do you like?
I like music that makes you think, gives space for contemplation, and subverts expectation. Music is an essential part of working in the studio for me. It creates an energy that fuels my practice. Getting to know an album and letting it attach itself to periods in my life is a ritual that I adhere to. I will play a new album again and again until it is ingrained in my brain. I see music as a phenomenon that is much like photography in the way that it embeds itself in our emotional memories. Unknown Mortal Orchestra's album II is currently on repeat in my studio. In the recent past Little Dragon has played incessantly, as has TuneYards, Wilco, Yeasayer, The Walkmen, and Springsteen.