ABP– Thank you for taking this interview Christine. I want to start by talking about Hello, New York; the living and dead. Alien Buddha Press had the privilege of publishing this black and white photography book back in December of last year. Tell us about the process of compiling the photos that made up that collection.
CSS- Stuck at home in quarantine, I started reviewing photos I had taken during grad school. Work had me bouncing around the boroughs and I took photos almost everyday. There was so much movement, so many memories. I didn’t have that kind of freedom in quarantine, none of us did. I yearned for a pre-pandemic NYC—not everything but at least the liberty I had in hopping on the subway, wandering around, and taking photos in passing as my schedule allowed. Even the most mundane cityscapes and fleeting moments from those 2017, ’18, and ’19 photos called out to me. They reminded me of all I couldn’t see in real life while inside my Brooklyn apartment.
Editing the photos became an act of remembering and a form of travel. I also decided to create self-portraits, using these source photos and selfies I’d taken during quarantine. I wanted to contrast my interiority in quarantine with the public life and witnessing I knew pre-pandemic. All of the photos, both cityscapes and self-portraits, had to be black and white because I wanted to heighten the textures and compositions of each one. Plus, again, I was interested in nostalgia. The result was a book that serves as a visual love letter to New York City.
ABP– New York City seems like an oasis for cityscape photography. Have you lived there your entire life? What has your experience as an artist been like in the big city.
CSS- I wish! Although maybe I take it less for granted because I’m not from here. My father is a native New Yorker, but I was raised in suburban Washington, D.C. I spent much of my childhood exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay. We would visit family in Manhattan and Connecticut and made frequent trips to the city otherwise, sometimes just to check out Harlem or Chinatown or wile away a day at the Met. As a college student, I escaped to NYC as often as I could, crashing on couches or calling a hostel home for the weekend. This was the place I always dreamed of one day living. I finally moved to Brooklyn with my husband in my 20s and hope to stay in the five boroughs as long as I can.
I love it here; it’s the first place I’ve felt I could truly be myself. There’s so much diversity in arts and culture that no single scene dominates and I feel welcomed in various communities. That’s not to say that cliques and competition don’t exist, but it’s much easier to extract yourself from a community if need be for whatever reason. When I lived in smaller places, extracting yourself from a community sometimes meant leaving a scene altogether. I’m happy to have my close friends and long-time colleagues to ground me, but I never wanted to stick to a clique. In NYC, I can be a floater.
ABP- Can you share a couple of your photographs?
ABP- You are a fantastic painter as well. Can you share a couple of your paintings with us?
CSS- Thank you! I do stand-alone paintings, as well as commissioned murals.
ABP- Early in 2021, Alien Buddha Press was fortunate to be featured in an interview like this, published by Quail Bell, an outlet that you are the founder of. What can you tell us about Quail Bell.
CSS-I founded Quail Bell Magazine as an undergrad and it’s one of the best—and most challenging—decisions I ever made. Quail Bell is an arts, culture, and literary magazine for real and unreal stories from around the world. We favor the imaginary, the nostalgic, and the otherworldly. We’ve also published anthologies and zines, in addition to producing films, videos, and live events. Our latest book is Her Plumage: An Anthology of Women’s Writings and our next anthology will be Lunar Phoenix: An Anthology of Black Voices. Quail Bell Magazine has since expanded into Quail Bell Press & Productions, a creative studio for original and client-commissioned projects.
ABP– You are a writer and a filmmaker as well, along with everything else. What are you currently working on in those departments?
CSS- Right now I’m celebrating as much as creating! Despite many disappointments, 2020 was still a banner year for me. In large part, that was because I was reaping what I sowed in grad school. I finished my MFA in 2019—a time of so much growth and a shitload of submissions—and enjoyed a flurry of artist residencies, film shoots, book launch events, and stage plays before the pandemic shut down NYC. I already had so much in motion when quarantine hit. My poetry and photography book Heaven Is A Photograph (CLASH Books) came out. I won a national playwriting competition that resulted in the publication of the book Two Plays (Table Work Press), which features my play “Mi Abuela, Queen of Nightmares.” Soundscape Theater produced my radio play “Nessie” (and is now producing my radio play “The Brain Ball.”) My short films “Bottled,” “Butterflies,” “Drunken History,” and “Virtual Caress,” all came out, too. Bottled and Butterflies have screened in several film festivals and online arts initiatives and are both streaming on Amazon now. In many ways, I am still promoting all of these projects. Even though they are done, my joy for their release has not subsided.
While I am promoting, I am still creating. Currently, Brooklyn Burial, my short film about a woman’s unusual solution for coping with her broken engagement, is making the festival circuit and work on a sequel is in pre-production. I’m in post-production for my film Sirena’s Gallery, which will start making the festival circuit later this year. Sirena’s Gallery is an independent feature about a Salvadoran-American woman’s struggle as an art gallery owner during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently widowed by a husband who died by suicide, Sirena must quickly adapt to self-isolation and the virtual world of e-commerce. Then I am producing and directing the film version of my novelette-turned-audiobook, Naomi & The Reckoning. Naomi & The Reckoning is a novelette that follows Naomi, a young woman with a physical deformity living in Richmond, VA. Struggling with body acceptance all her life, Naomi also comes from a strict religious upbringing. Purity culture further complicated her relationship with her body and, now recently married, she can’t find sexual satisfaction. The book opens with five narrative poems that lead into the central story, a work of prose fiction. You can download the audiobook on the Quail Bell Press & Productions website at http://www.quailbell.com.
ABP– Who is your favorite writer? Favorite artist? Favorite photographer? Favorite filmmaker?
CSS- That’s always tough to answer because I fall in and out of love easily and my affection sways project by project and according to my own moods and experiences. At the time of this interview, I’m loving Amy Tan as a writer, Yvonne Shortt as a visual artist, Nan Goldin as a photographer, and Sophia Coppola as a filmmaker.
ABP– Thank you again for taking the time to be a part of this, Christine. The floor is all yours. If there is anything that we did not cover here that you would like to mention, feel free to let us know.
CSS- I do a damn good job of updating my portfolio site WorldOfChristineStoddard.com, if I do say so myself! I encourage you to poke around to see more of what I’ve created and some of what’s in the pipeline. I do have to keep some things secret, though! Thank you to presses like yours who allow me to do what I do.