Christina Chi Craig // Creative Director & Photographer
Christina Chi Craig is a creative hailing from Garden Grove, California. Drawing inspiration from childhood wonders, Christina achieves her distinct style through deep-rooted sentiment that tests our view of reality and the world around us. As musical selections of Charles Bradley and Phantogram fill the studio, we watch Christina meticulously assemble the stage for her exciting “Floating Book Project.” Sitting with Christina to discuss her latest work, we explore her passion for photography and its importance in her creative journey.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
When a picture comes together, in that moment, be it right side up or upside down, my life makes sense. I praise conceptual and lifestyle photography and sometimes works with video, always interested in the deceptively commonplace. With each moment captured and every portrait made my objective never waivers: to seek adventure and to electrify the mundane. I’m drawn to subject matter that closely relates to my daily life depicted through a dual affinity for nature and the city, and as a person of mixed ethnicity my work is occupied by themes of hybridity and the everyday process of discovering one’s identity. Ultimately, my work seeks to connect and to be connected. I work freelance – always working and always looking for more. I currently reside in the suburbs of Southern California in the cozy town of Garden Grove, where in addition to photography I enjoy exploring the outdoors and urban farm life with my three pet chickens. I’m a literary junky, Stars Wars fanatic, DIY enthusiast, and generally speaking, one happy, ambitious human being.
There is a certain level of creativity that is required for in-studio shoots, where does that inspiration come from?
Everything inspires me! It’s constantly changing – it could be anything from a conversation I had with someone ten years ago to a mind blowing concept or theory from the latest space documentary I watched on Netflix. I think it’s really important to look at art history and to other mediums of art to find inspiration – I get really inspired by other artists and find a way to incorporate the aspects I love most about their work into mine. Joseph Cornell and his series of hand built collage boxes inspired me to play a more active role in the art production of my portraits – taking it to the next level and getting in to woodwork and building a set, or finding a way to make things appear to float to add to the story; whatever it takes to see my vision through. Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte as surrealist painters definitely pushed me to explore more conceptual ideas. Henry David Thoreau, Ernest Hemingway, and John Muir as incredible writers and hopeless romantics in their wonderment and appreciation of nature And don’t get me started on my forever muse, Wes Anderson, his control of color palette, styling, meticulous attention to detail and eccentric characters – I’d have to say he is my number one source of inspiration when it comes to in studio shoots, and photography in general. You could stop any one of his films at just about any moment in the movie, and it would be a perfectly composed photograph. He’ll do things like have a scene where two characters are having a conversation, but only one person is actually in the scene, the other person is indirectly there through a reflection in the mirror. I love that. Gregory Crewdson, and the cinematic production value that he puts into creating a single photograph, in particular is someone I look up to.
What were you reading when you thought of floating books?
I’ve been reading books for as long as I can remember. They have always been this sort of magical thing to me – that paper and ink alone could transport you to a thousand different worlds and allow you to lead a thousand different lives blew my mind as an eight year old girl and continues to blow my mind eighteen years later today. As soon as I finished one book I was eager for the next. So there’s that, and that definitely played a role in my perception of books as holding magical properties and ultimately wanting to convey that through a photograph.
If I could pin it down to one book, however, I’d have to say it was third grade, recess-time, reading Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda.’ I remember it was one of the first books that really got me in to reading. I think there’s actually a scene in the book where she is able to make things float with just the power of her mind, and it was through the power of knowledge and pushing herself to read these advanced books as a young girl well beyond her years that this female heroine had her happy ending. And I remembered thinking to myself, books really are enchanting, they do this for me. I may not be able to literally levitate things in this world, but through books, I have lived a thousand lives and been a thousand people. It’s an empowering experience. The perspective and appreciation you gain for the world is just magical. Have I said magical enough?
Capturing a moment can happen both outside and in the studio, do you have a preference?
That’s a tough one to answer. I think there are advantages and disadvantages to both. I definitely love studio shoots because I get the chance to remove many of the extraneous variables that would otherwise be more or less left up to fate when shooting outdoors. In studio I don’t have to worry about things like weather condition, permits for location, the public. The studio is a blank canvas, and you as a photographer, you are in full control of how that image is going to be painted. It gives me the freedom to be more conceptual when it’s just me and the studio. The process is infinitely slower than lifestyle and out of studio work, so it’s not for everyone. But it ultimately creates a slow simmering, deep kind of satisfaction that warms the soul. Then again, with photographing outside the studio, there’s also something special about those raw, in the moment times, the one shot hit-or-miss decisive moment, and that can be really exciting to capture – creativity on the fly. With studio you have all the time in the world to compose your moment, but really have to know your lighting, the technical stuff. And with the outside world, lighting of course is important, but it’s less technical and more about the “decisive moment.” When a picture comes together despite, or rather in spite of so many uncontrollable factors, it’s an exhilarating satisfaction – the kind that jolts the body and makes your heart skip beats. It’s pretty neck and neck in terms of preference – but I’d have to say being in my studio wins strictly by default of being open 24 hours. Inspiration for me strikes without warning and often at odd hours, so I need that sort of on the whim accessibility or else I’d probably go insane.
What impact has photography had on your life that you want to transmit to others in the community?
My first photography class was Introduction to Black and White 35mm film. That’s when I first really fell in love with photography. A big part of that was the way in which the medium impacted my life. There’s something about starting out with learning photography in its analog form and really being forced to have a moment with just yourself for hours at a time in a darkroom, with no dialogue save for your thoughts and maybe a pair of headphones. I found moments of clarity and a sense of peace within myself that I was unable to get anywhere else in the world. And then there is the actual act of photographing, which in and of itself, has become a form of therapy for me over time. The permanence of the photographs you create for the transient moments that is life allows you to stop time and really soak that moment in, to appreciate it, to loathe it, to glorify it, to laugh at it, to cry at it, to really feel it. It’s romantic. Fleeting moments are paused and what is left is a moment, forever frozen in time. Who’s to say what happened the moment before, and what will happen in the moment next? I started to see endless possibilities and the potential of things; photography pushed my creativity and gave me hope. I remember going through a really tough period at the time I started to learn the craft – parents splitting, friends moving away to different colleges, and a heartbreak all at once. Photography got me through that, and has since been central to my well-being and overall happiness. So if there’s one thing I would want to convey to others in the community it would be that photography is an extraordinarily powerful medium that can transform your perception not only of the world but of yourself. It’s made my life whole.
How have your surroundings shaped your perception and passion towards photography?
I think my mixed ethnicity played a huge role. I’m half Vietnamese, and a big fear of mine is the possibility of losing my sense of tradition from my heritage living here in the States. So I document as much as I can to never forget. I think a part of why most people take photographs is for that reason.
How do communities within Southern California affect your creative outlook?
Region and lifestyle play an integral role for any artist. I grew up in the So-Cal surf, skate, and beach scene, and from that comes a specific color palette, appreciation and insistence that your work be inspired by the outdoors, and sense of adventure. Southern California has a very “go getter” attitude. The suburbs is a “safe” experience, and I think growing up in that sheltered environment pushed me to probe my curiosity and explore. And when I started exploring I wanted a way to remember my adventures. The camera made that happen. A device that makes memories tangible and helps me to express myself the way no other medium has been able to.
Are you working on any current or exciting projects as of late?
Yes! Long term – I have a couple of series I am working on making as books over the next two years, which I’m pretty excited about. One is on a series called “ I Dream Like” – a sort of Inception inspired concept, where the images created are based loosely off what I dream select artists, writers, characters [fiction and nonfiction], and archetypes might dream about. Another series is of course my floating book concept, no title for that one quite yet, but it will probably be something to the effect of “The Floating Book Project.” Recently I joined a film company – HTD Films. I’m thrilled about my recent partnership with them, because one of their specialties is creating music videos. I am house photographer at The Observatory music venue in Santa Ana. I’ve really been turned on to the idea of getting more involved in the music scene. It didn’t dawn on me until I met the film company, but the music industry is sort of perfect for me. I mean, where else is conceptual freedom that highly encouraged and weird in demand? I love it. Musicians are more open to bizarre portraits or concepts because a big thing with music when approaching it from a photography and film standpoint is the challenge of making sound, which is time, feelings – an intangible mood being heard translate successfully into a visual, where time and feelings – a mood is now asked to be tangibly seen. We recently released our music video for Tyler Carter’s song “Find Me.” So yes, lots of projects I’m really enthusiastic about.
What do you hope to portray through these projects?
I would love to take the experiences I have had working with a music the Observatory, having had the chance to meet and photograph musicians from all genres, in conjunction with my conceptual side and combine them to direct, co-direct or art direct some music videos. Whenever I create an image, part of my process is creating a bigger story in my mind so that when the image comes together it feels more natural despite it’s perhaps unnatural concept. the image should visually stand on its own of course, but I think it really adds to the picture when you get the feeling that there’s more to the story than meets the eye. When I look at my photographs, I see potential for them to be teased into a bigger story, and I would love to see that achieved through film. Ultimately my work is all about capturing the liveliness and aesthetics that come from an authentic sense of fun and wonderment for the world. I wake up aware of the astronomical odds of my coming in to existence as me and no one else but me. Life in and of itself is incredible. But I think sometimes people forget that, so I strive to convey a sense of adventure – to show you how electrifying even the ‘mundane’ can be.
Where can we find you in the neighborhood?
I’m a big fan of the outdoors and frequent a few hike spots around the area. There are some great areas in Trabuco Canyon, although my main love affair is with Angeles Crest National Forest. It’s just so serene up there, an incredible source of inspiration, and a place not far away that gives me a moment to sort be ‘off the grid’ when I need it– no cell reception and a sea of trees and watering holes to climb around. The beach is of course another go to – Crystal Cove with the rickety old quaint cabins, and Laguna Beach with the hidden caves are my favorite of the beaches. Thrift shops, used bookstores, coffee shop – If I’m not at one I’m probably at the other. I also have the fortune of living nearby an Art Supply Warehouse, which is great for getting supplies during pre production of a concept piece, not so great on my wallet. I have a Disneyland pass so you’ll find me there too – I go to be inspired by the attention to detail Walt Disney had, and also I’m a people watcher, which I hope doesn’t come out as creepy! It’s just that other people fascinate me – the way humans interact with one another – quirky traits, different sense of style and vibes, body language that speaks before you do, all of it inspires me. Of all the places you’ll find me most at though, I’ll have to confess, is: at home with a brew of coffee or tea, headphones, and editing.
Christina Chi Craig's work: