From a very young age, photographer Chrissie White has used photography as a means to escape the real world and explore her own identity. In this interview, the artist talks about her beginnings and her creative process as a photographer and explains how her focus has shifted over the years from the inside to the outside world.
How did you first get into photography?
I started photography back in 2007 after discovering the work of other teen photographers online. I have always been artistic. I used to spend my days creating plays and films with a camcorder or painting and drawing. I credit the Internet and more specifically Flickr for my initial curiosity and education of using a camera to express myself. I started with a small see-through film camera when I was little but moved onto a Kodak EasyShare once I realized photography could be more than pure documentation of my life. I remember saving up to buy my first Canon DSLR in 2008 and being so excited about all of the possibilities this new tool presented to me.
Apart from the fact that you’ve improved, what has changed for you? Are you still exploring the same themes?
This is an interesting topic for me because often I have people come up to me exclaiming that they loved my old work and wished I still took photographs like that. But for me, that would mean I have never evolved or changed as an artist and as a person. Originally, I explored the idea of dreams because I would run away to my imagination as a teenager to hide from the world. Many nights were spent in my basement setting up different worlds against a blank wall so I could implant myself into them and play a new character each time. I took a lot of self-portraits and felt immense freedom. Although I have moved on from those ideas, I do miss the feeling of having no fear about what I was making. I didn’t worry about the images being good or bad, I just created because it felt good to me. Back then, it was important for me to play different characters as I was trying to figure out who I wanted to be in life. Now I try to explore themes outside of myself more. The work is still very personal obviously, but I want it to speak to a universal audience. My main theme right now is exploring the human spirit within nature — what it means to be a part of this world and how spending time outdoors in the wild can generate positive wholesome feelings.
I understand you shoot both digital and film. What does each offer that the other doesn’t?
At the moment, I mainly shoot digitally because I haven’t been able to afford to get my film processed — I go to school full-time and don’t make a lot of money. That’s one real benefit to digital photography. It’s fast and you achieve instant results. One thing that makes film more special to me though is that subconsciously I spend more time composing my images before I take them. I view the picture in its entirety within the viewfinder and wait until the decisive moment to press the shutter. With digital pictures, it’s so easy to just snap away because you can sift through the multitude of images later to find the one shot that makes you happy. But the downside to that is often I end up with a bunch of garbage. I find that with film I have a higher rate of success within my images because I use my eyes more instead of compulsively pressing a shutter.
Tell us a little more about your process of planning a new project. Do you have a very clear vision that you strictly adhere to or do you just take photos as you go along?
This depends on the project. In the past I went through and planned out every single image before executing. I know what colors I want and exactly how the composition will be. For my project “Awakening The Spirit” that I am currently working on, I will think of ideas when the inspiration strikes me. However, most of it is a result of experimentation while I’m camping in the wilderness. The project involves a lot of long exposures taken at night, so I never quite know what I will capture. I think that’s one reason it appeals to me because there is a great deal of mystery within the 30 seconds that my camera shutter remains open. It feels like magic, to be able to capture images at night because I feel like I am able to see time and light in a different way from my ordinary everyday experience. Sometimes I think of it like taking drugs to shift your consciousness so that you can see something new. Only I can do it without actually affecting my body!
You’ve shot some projects on your own, others in collaboration. How does the collaborative artistic process compare to the individual?
I love collaborating because I am an extrovert and I think anyone who has ever worked with me knows that. The artistic energy flies around and I love being able to ask my creative partners at the time what their opinions are. I learn a great deal when working with others, and it forces me to push myself to see the world in different ways. Working on my own is much more intimate for me. When I create by myself it feels like meditation, and I retreat into my own inner world. It is a very cleansing and peaceful place for me. Overall, I try to have a balance of collaborative time and individual time when it comes to my artwork because they both have their special qualities.
A lot of your photographs feature the female body and nature. What does each of them mean to you? How do you see the connection between the two?
I grew up spending a lot of time outdoors so I feel like it is necessary to my happiness to make time for wilderness adventures. I feel very calm and happy when I’m hiking or camping, and it allows me to forget about the stress in my life. Our bodies, female or male, are a part of nature and it is important for me to get that point across in my new work. Living in the city can make me feel so disconnected from reality sometimes, I get wrapped up in social drama or start to feel anxious about who I am and whether I’m good enough. By going back to the trees, I find an abundance of opportunities to explore my spirituality and realize my connection to all beings of this earth. In a way, it is sort of like therapy for me, and I encourage everyone to take the time to go on a hike now and then to see if it helps them clear their mind of negative self-harming thoughts.
You’ve been publishing your work online for years but have just now published a book. Which medium do you prefer to showcase your work and why?
I prefer to show my work In print, the advantage of a book is that you are in control of how the viewer reads your work from start to end. My absolute favorite is to have work printed and then framed, though. On the internet, it seems like people only view images for a period of 20 to 30 seconds on average. I don’t think that’s enough time to appreciate and contemplate on concepts behind artwork. I know for me, that when I see a big framed piece of work on a wall I tend to appreciate and think about the piece on a deeper level, which of course is how I want others to view my work!
To find out more about Chrissie White, visit her website. All photographs provided by the artist and used with permission.