Interview 05 – Natalie Christensen

Natalie Christensen is a contemporary photographer and has shown work in the U.S. and internationally. Her images are inspired by a decision to move from her lifelong home in the Southeastern U.S. to Santa Fe, New Mexico. These photos are a study of color fields, geometric shapes, negative space and light. Her long-time work as a psychotherapist and love of abstract painting has influenced her work and she is using the symbols and spaces of the the suburban Southwest to reveal psychological metaphors in the landscape.

Thanks Natalie for this interview, if you were to rewrite your biography today in 140 characters what would it say?

You are starting off with a really hard question – if you follow me on Twitter you know I haven’t tweeted in about two years because I cannot say anything in 140 characters. Being succinct is not my strong point, and I have tried for days to give a clever answer to this one…I think I may have to pass and hope that my answers to your other questions give the readers a sense of who I am and what my intentions are.

Can you talk about how you approach your work and what do you want your images to communicate?

When I am out shooting, my approach is to wander outside the city center and venture into the more ordinary suburban parts of Santa Fe. I try not to look for anything in particular, but if you know my work, there are some repeating motifs. I love the idea of the “found” scene and I want to reveal the drama in those places that is overlooked by the casual observer. I purposely shoot when the sun is high because of the light it creates and in particular what it does to negative space. There is a flat, surreal quality to these scenes that is very appealing to me.

Does your background as a psychotherapist always influence your current photography practice?

I have thought about this question a lot, and there are some parallels between doing therapy with someone and making a successful photograph. Both require close observation, being quiet, tuning in and being thoughtful about the moment of entering into what is happening. With minimalism, I think of it as peeling back layers, quieting the distractions. I tend to look for patterns – patterns in my life and in my photography. There are repeating themes in my work – swimming pools, chairs, doors, stairs. I see these objects as psychological metaphors; for me, they say something deeper. Minor White said, “all photographs are self-portraits”. That statement really resonates with me.

If a person were to react to your work what would you like the reaction to be?

I think there are many levels of “reaction” to a photo and when an artist decides to show work on social media, there needs to be an understanding that most people are going to give it about a half-second of consideration before moving on. It might get a like, comments on photos are less common, and then there are the people who actually study the image and have some kind of experience – maybe they tell me about it, but usually not. My photos are a part of me, and I have had the experience of intuitively knowing that someone “understood” what I was trying to say. There really isn’t anything better than that.

Do you have any specific references or sources of inspiration while working on your photos? Does it come from other artists?

A major influence is the work of Carl Jung – he was a Swedish psychoanalyst, artist and writer. He wrote extensively about symbols, dreams, the shadow side of the self, and what he referred to as the “collective unconscious” – structures of the unconscious mind that are shared by all humans. I have a love of abstract painting that goes back to college – I went to NYC with a friend and he took me to all the major art museums. I stood in front of Mark Rothko’s work and was so moved by it – it felt like standing on the abyss of something too big to comprehend; it was a pivotal moment for me. I have a few photography mentors who have encouraged me to spend time looking at particular photographers’ work – to orient myself and contextualize the photography I am doing to the work of those who originated these styles. Lots of people who have a passion for photography have never studied it formally, and get their “eye” developed on Instagram. There are so many people who have found their artistic voice here, and maybe they never thought of themselves as an artist before that. Because I haven’t studied art in a formal setting, I know I have a lot of catching up to do, and so I have been spending more time learning about the masters, and realize what they did to shape the current photographic landscape and their continuing influence in contemporary photography.

Getting everything to come together in one image is the holy grail – I don’t know if I have taken that image yet. One that comes close to what I am trying to achieve is titled “partly sunny”. I hesitate to explain it – I would rather the viewer decide which images work for them.

If you had one shot that summed up all your image making attitudes, what would it be?

I am not sure if a typical day is going to tell you anything more about the person behind the camera – here are some random things about me. I grew up in Kentucky and lived my entire life there until I moved to Santa Fe 3 years ago. I have been practicing yoga several times a week for the past 20 years. I run a consulting business that focuses on assisting states in the U.S. and Australia improve their child protection systems so kids are safe and families can function better. I try to be a good friend and kind person.

We would like to know more about the person behind the camera, so please explain what does a typical day look like for @natalie_santafe?

I don’t carry my camera everywhere. I do have it a lot though, and if I don’t have the camera, I have my iPhone. I used to go out every day and shoot. Now I can’t because of the other work connected to photography – editing, submitting, getting work ready to show, writing about the work – all of those things get in the way of just going out and shooting. I still do shoot several times a week, and I think it is important to do it even if I don’t feel like it. Someone once said don’t wait for inspiration, just go out and shoot.

Would you live in a place where is there no color at all and if so do you think your imagery would still be the same as one with colour?

I can’t imagine a world without color, and so I wouldn’t want to live in one. I do think a lot about color, but it isn’t the first thing that draws me to a scene. I have thought about this question more lately, and I think that what first draws me in is negative space and light. Then I assess the other elements – subject, composition, and color.

All images © Natalie Christensen

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