Saturated Selfies: Intentional & Intense Photography and Writing with Angie River

1916582_10208096803279557_8139095001714800862_nAngie River is teaching a new online class for the TLA Network, “Saturated Selfies: Intentional and Intense Photography and Writing,” April 13 – May 10. This four-week class that you can do from anywhere in the world on your own time (want to write at 2 a.m. in your pj’s? you can!) is a wonderful vehicle for exploring identity in image and words as well as a new view on selfies as its own emerging art form. As Angie writes, “In photography, the term ‘saturation’ is used to describe the intensity of colors. This course will investigate our intense, colorful, and amazing life through a combination of photography (specifically, selfies) and writing.”
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg: Over a year ago, you taught a very beloved classes on selfies, combining writing and photography, so we invited you to develop a new way to continue that dialogue between self, image and words. What led you to bring the concept of saturation into this exploration to help people better understand our lives and stories?
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Angie River: When invited to do another selfie class, I began pondering photography terminology and the ways that various terms relate not to just images but also to writing and to life. The term ‘saturation’ came to mind, which in photography has to do with the definition between and intensity of colors. This term really struck me though, as our lives can be beautifully ‘saturated’ too, where we have soaked up so much into them that we are ready to overflow. My desire for this class is to use selfies and writing to explore just how much beauty we have in our lives, and in our selves.
CMG: We live in a culture, as you describe in your class description, where selfies are rampant but also seen as “silly at best and at worst narcissistic.” Why do you work with the selfie as the core of this class, and how can we use selfies to go beyond silly or narcissistic?

12631307_10208270067931065_6323963300978360194_nAR: I use the selfie because I feel it is a tool to help us better know and understand ourselves, as well as to present to the world a narrative that we have created. Many would agree that it is often easier to process emotions or thoughts or events once they are written down and ‘out of your head’ on the paper. I believe the same can be said for selfies; when we take photos of ourselves and our lives and then look at them, it helps us to see from a new perspective. Just as a poem or a blog post can be used to process something and share it with the world, a selfie can too. I think selfies are often viewed as silly or narcissistic because we’re taking pictures of ourselves, sharing them on the Internet often, and getting joy out of the ‘likes’ and comments we get! However, there is a lot to be said about the way that selfies help us to write our own stories and present ourselves the way we wish others to see us, which is especially powerful for marginalized populations.

CMG: You combine writing and photography in this class. What can that combination do to give us greater perspective, freedom, and vision?

AR: I believe it is powerful anytime we combine more than one art form! The reason I choose both of these forms of creativity though is that they interact so nicely together, one visual and one word-based. I personally enjoy using writing to reflect on visual works. This allows both ourselves as creators, and whatever audience may see the pieces, to have a visual piece (which may be abstract, or at first glance just look like any other ‘selfie’) further explained and explored in the writing. I think of the Japanese Haiga, which combines a haiku with a piece of visual art; the two are supposed to work together to communicate a message that is greater than if either the poem or the artwork was standing alone. It is my hope that the combination of selfies with writing will do the same in this class.

CMG: Tell us about your own evolution as a transformative language artist, and how you’ve explored many aspects of the self through writing, film, movement, dance, performance, and stories (and other arts).
AR: My own journey as a transformative language artist is ever changing and growing! selfI started out as a poet and working with incarcerated youth to write about their feelings. I am still very much a poet, thoroughly enjoying writing as a means to explore and process the world both external and internal. However, I’m also discovering so many more ways that I really love to experience creativity and transformative language arts. I am a performer, and have been using both burlesque and performance art (including video) as a means to challenge societal norms and ask questions of the audience. One of my favorite things to do in shows is a combination of performance and poetry, in which I have audience members answer a question or respond to a prompt in writing, and I then create a performance poem out of their answers. Now, in the past year or so, I’ve been also using the selfie as a form of transformative language arts. In addition to these TLAN classes, I’m also documenting my journey as a disabled person though the healthcare system using selfies and Instagram (you can look for my disability-related photos by searching for #sickfemmeglam). One of the things I love about transformative language arts is how versatile it is. I simply love all the new things I’m discovering!
CMG: I love hearing about all that you’re discovering too, and how you keep turning your treasures into treasures for us too. Thank you so much for offering this class as well as the other superb classes you offered on selfies and writing through chronic illness.
AR: I really look forward to this class! I appreciate the Transformative Language Arts Network allowing me this opportunity to explore selfies again, in a new way. I can’t wait to meet all those going on this newest journey with me, and to see and read about all your saturated lives!
Angie River is a writer, educator, activist, and performance artist, as well as a lover of selfies! She has taught writing workshops and done performances in various states across the country, and is published in “Tidepools Literary Magazine,” “Reading for Hunger Relief,” The Body is Not an Apology webpage, and the upcoming anthology “Queering Sexual Violence,” as well as having her own blog (https://nittygrittynakedness.wordpress.com/) and zines. Angie fully believes in the power of art to help us gain a better understanding of ourselves, to build connections and community, and to make personal and social change.  All photos in this interview are Angie’s selfies.

The Milky Way Woman, and Poetry to Navigate Love and Suicide: Ronda Miller

11225999_10204626047072760_6405884939243296052_nNovember of 2010 found me touring the state of Kansas with our then poet laureate, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, and several other poets from around the state. The objective was to save the arts, especially poetry, in Kansas, and to take poetry to all corners of the state. I’d written a poem about my Mother’s suicide a couple of years previously. That in and of itself was huge as she died when I was three and at 55 I was finally able to begin talking about her.

Our group of poets had been given an extremely warm welcome throughout the small communities in which we read. Garden City was especially welcoming. Poets often outnumbered their audience, so we were surprised to find ourselves reading at a lovely old theater that had numerous seats filled with enthusiast audience members. I was nervous since I was a relative newbie and could count the readings I had done previously on one hand.

10622328_10202616472794659_1329351779_nIt wasn’t until that night in Garden City that I realized I would read the poem I had written about my Mother’s suicide, “The Milky Way Woman.” As I stood on the theater stage, I remembered that it was National Suicide Prevention Day, so I explained to the audience that I expect a lot from my coaching clients. The majority of them have lost someone to homicide. I give them challenges and expect them to talk about hard topics and emotions.

I began to read my poem out loud for the first time. A most unusual thing happened as I spoke the words. My voice became louder, more powerful, and I stood taller, felt lighter. Several people came up to me following my reading to give me a hug and to share a personal story of their own losses. Words: they take us across the state of Kansas, perhaps across the Universe. The following is the poem I read that evening.

The Milky Way Woman

Ronda's mother

Ronda’s mother

When I was three
and you sent me out
to play in the snow
while you put a bullet
through your heart,
I did not cry.
I curled into a ball
and closed my eyes.
That night when Daddy
came and said,
“Look up into the sky,
you’ll see your mommy’s
face in the stars,”
I did not look.
I did not want to see
your face so far away
and so small.
But now I’m grown,
with children of my own,
I want to stand on the edge
of the Milky Way with you
hand in hand,
When The Milky Way Woman
gives the command,
you and I will make
that leap together.
Wait for me.

Ronda Miller is a life coach who specializes in coaching those who have lost someone to homicide. Her body of work includes two books of poetry, Going Home: Poems from My Life and MoonStain (Meadowlark Books in 2015) a poetry CD, “View from Smoky Hill: It’s Kansas!” and a documentary, “The 150th Reride of The Pony Express.”  Her novel, Girl Who Lives in a Glass Bowl, and memoir, Gun Memories of The Stone Eyed Cold Girl, should be released in 2016. She is district 2 President of Kansas Authors Club, previous KAC state poetry contest manager, 2011 – 2015, and state VP of KAC as of 2015.