It is often at times of isolation that creative inspiration manifests itself. For some, loneliness can be terrifying and can lead to sadness or pain. But for others, there can be some kind of magic in loneliness. Stillness and loneliness can become a place where we can search within ourselves to find our own secret and silent truth.
We talked to photographer Chrissie White about her series “Portrait of A Quiet Girl”. Shot in 2015, her photographic work seem to have taken a new life now that the world population is in isolation, locked in their homes for better or for worse, quietly waiting for a new beginning. From her little cabin in the woods in Quilcene, Washington, Chrissie took the time to answer our questions and reflect on her creative process and how she finds inspiration and balance.
Lola Who: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a photographer?
Chrissie: I was born in Seattle (Washington) in 1993, and grew up on a dead-end street in a forested part of the suburbs. As a child, I spent a lot of time in the wilderness because my family was very passionate about backpacking, camping, and outdoor sports such as skiing. When we weren’t frolicking outside, my sister (I have two full siblings, and we are triplets), my mom, and I would often be hanging out together working on some sort of crafty art project. At first, I believed I would become an actress as a child-like so many of us dream of, and then I started sewing and had dreams of becoming a fashion designer. I guess the sewing ultimately led to my photography career because I would sew clothing for my dolls and photograph scenes of them wearing the garments I had created. Eventually, when I was about 12, I met a girl from the UK on Myspace and she introduced me to the website Flickr, which was very popular back then for young photographers to share their work and meet new people from around the world. It was then, that I developed a passion for taking photographs. We would share techniques and critique our work together. If it wasn’t for the internet, I would probably have never had the opportunity to hone my photography skills so quickly and easily. When I was 23, I attended a commercial photography program near downtown Seattle and went on to set up a studio with one of my best friends Clara Pathe, who I had been collaborating with since my teenage years. We had the studio for almost 2 years until we both realized commercial photography wasn’t the right path for the two of us. I moved away to the country-side and learned how to farm, and take care of sheep which has pretty much taken over my life now! I now focus on fine-art photography and no longer have a desire to pursue it commercially.
Lola Who: Where do you currently live and has COVID-19 affected you personally?
Chrissie: I live in a little cabin by a lake in a town called Quilcene, Washington, which has a population of about 500 people. There aren’t many cases of COVID-19 in our town as it’s pretty rural, but most of us are still being careful about leaving the house and wearing masks, etc. I had a big art show canceled that I had been working towards for the past two years with one of my best friends Taylor Hanigosky and that has been a bit of a disappointment as we both spent a lot of time and money traveling through the southwestern United States to capture photographs and video. However, I figure the show will still happen in the future and now we just have more time to refine the work! Ironically, the whole show is centered around erosion, and how human beings are both directly affecting Earth’s landscape and are in turn affected by Earth’s changing landscape. There have been some dramatic changes in the landscape in this short time since most of us have been sheltering in place and living without certain industries right now.
Lola Who: I came across your series “Portrait of a Quiet Girl” and it captured my attention, especially now that we are all spending so much time alone… What mood were you in when you took those photos?
Chrissie: This series was a collaboration with my friend Elvia Carreon, and it is really about her as a woman. She is a big homebody and spent the majority of her time shut away in her apartment at that time of her life, kind of a prison but of her own making that I think made her feel lonely and also peaceful at the same time. It was at her house that she felt most comfortable and creative, and the two of us would spend a lot of time there simply playing and dreaming up ideas for projects. The whole series was taken in or right outside of her apartment. In some ways, her apartment is both her sanctuary and also her way of avoiding the world. Some days she wouldn’t get out of bed at all, and other days she wouldn’t leave until night time. The series hasn’t really taken on a new meaning to me since the pandemic, but I suppose maybe more of us can relate to it now that we are stuck in our homes for the most part!
Lola Who: It can be easy to lose your mind and lose track of time when you are isolated… How do you find balance between loneliness and creativity?
Chrissie: I think art, or having any project in general, is the best way to combat loneliness. Having something to focus your energy on seems to make the time go by faster and gives people purpose outside of socializing. As a very social person myself, unlike the model (Elvia) in this series, I actually enjoy being forced to be alone sometimes because it’s during those times that I get the most work done and have the mental energy to think of new ideas.
Lola Who: Do you think our behaviour changes when we are by ourselves or in self-isolation?
Chrissie: Our behaviour definitely changes when we feel like no one is watching. We have the opportunity to experiment without fear, and be the people that we truly are. It’s a beautiful thing that I believe is necessary to living a happy life. Being forced to stay in isolation on the other hand is difficult, and can be lonely. Not having the choice to stay or leave, can be excruciating which is why prison is such a scary concept for most of us. I can only imagine how much more difficult this time would be for very social people if they had no internet access or telephones to speak with their loved ones. Of course I think it’s a great opportunity to learn new skills, and explore ourselves now that we don’t have to interact with loads of other people and their opinions of us each day…
Lola Who: Would you say that you are a “quiet girl” in real life?
Chrissie: I used to think I was a huge extrovert growing up, and it wasn’t until maybe two years ago that I realized deep down I need to be a “quiet girl” just as much as I need to interact with the outside world in order to create my artwork and feel at peace within myself. If I spend too much time around others I start to lose myself and I spiral into chaos, and even depression… It is during those times that it is really essential for me to lock myself up and spend time alone to rebalance myself. On the other hand, if I spend too much time alone I start to feel rather disconnected from society and sad…. Anyway my life motto is everything in moderation! I think that’s the secret to feeling whole.
By Helene R. Hidalgo