These Satisfying Images of Urban New Mexico Will Comfort Any Minimalist

Looking at an artist’s body of work for the first time will always prompt the question “What was she or he thinking?”. With good reason. Regardless of the genre, artists often use their work to convey a message or process and play with personal thoughts and experiences. For photographer Natalia Christensen, this involves looking into her past as a professional psychotherapist – one of the results being her ongoing project The Deconstructed Self, a beautiful set of urban minimalist photographs taken in her new home of New Mexico.

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Natalie picks out the perfect moment to capture colourful settings in her everyday environment. Bins, swimming pools, doors – she frames them in an abstract way, capitalising on the light of the New Mexican sun. To her, it’s not just about the visual beauty of simplicity, but about the underlying thought-process: “I want the viewer to imagine themselves in the space and project whatever is triggered in their subconscious.”

Enjoy an enriching interview with Natalie about self-identity – and the meaning of swimming pools.

THE PLUS: Looking at The Deconstructed Self, how would you describe your style?  
Natalie Christensen:
Generally speaking, I would place it in the urban minimalism and new topographic genres. My interest in the psychological side of things also influences me and I try to embed that in most of my work.

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TP: You worked professionally as a psychotherapist. Generally speaking, how does this background influence your work?
NC:
I have thought a lot about this and have come to a recent conclusion. As a psychotherapist, I learned the art of the question. The right question at the right moment can result in deeper insights for whomever I was working with. I see my photography as an extension of that idea.

TP: Can you explain that in more detail?
NC:
Each photo is like a question – for me and hopefully for the viewer, too. The ultimate reward is if the photo starts to stir something inside, triggering a memory or an emotion that the viewer wants to explore.

TP: Some of your scenes look quite remote and deserted. How does this enhance imagination and reflection?
NC:
Most of my work is shot in areas that are not remote – however my framing is intentional and I almost never take photos with humans in the scene. I want the viewer to imagine themselves in the space and project whatever is triggered in their subconscious.

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TP: Give us your thoughts on the importance of self-identity. 
NC:
Prior to moving to New Mexico, my self-identity was very connected to my work as a psychotherapist. Once I left that behind, I did go through a period of “who am I?” outside of this professional role I filled for so long. Moving into this experience of being an artist has certainly expanded my identity and helped me see myself in an entirely new way. It has connected me to the part of myself that has been there all along, but I needed to take this path in order to become acquainted with her.

TP: You live in New Mexico, where the sun and its light are permanent companions of your work as photographer. What do you like about this? 
NC:
The light here is intensely bright and the air is clear, so skies are ridiculously blue. I think when light hits facades or objects here, it creates a flatness and surreal quality that I find very appealing – almost dreamlike.

TP: You focus on suburban elements most people wouldn’t take a closer look at. What are they missing in your opinion?
NC:
Every scene is an opportunity to make a composition, no matter what the subject is – so the pure challenge of composing something the casual observer wouldn’t notice on his way to more notable landmarks in New Mexico is much more interesting to my brain.

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TP: So, what does your brain like about this?
NC:
I am fascinated by everyday objects that hold meaning for us based on our personal experiences, and objects that take on anthropomorphic qualities appeal to me as well - projecting human qualities to a chair or a street sign and telling little stories that elicit emotion is why I do this.

TP: Your shots pay special attention to geometric elements in architecture. Why?
NC:
I was a frustrated painter before I started exploring photography. I have always been drawn to the colour field paintings of Mark Rothko and artists like Richard Diebenkorn and Donald Judd. My images of abstracted architecture come from that influence.

TP: You regularly feature swimming pools. Could you explain to us why they fit into this context?
NC:
For me, swimming pools and water symbolise the unconscious or unknowable self. They can trigger memories of all kinds of experiences, as well as wishes and desires. I find them endlessly fascinating.

TP: In the project description, you speak about “a conversation with myself about emotions connected to loss”. Could you expand on that?
NC:
When I moved to New Mexico and started to explore photography and questioning why I kept returning to certain motifs, I realised that many of them – for example closed doors, trash bins, empty pools and deserted streets – were connected to loss. I had left behind my lifelong home, a 25-year career. I left my family and friends. Photography was a vehicle to explore all of that.

TP: Do you think other people view your work the same way?
NC:
For me, these scenes are a representation of loss. For others, maybe not. I have spent so much of my adult life in conversation with others about their memories and feelings. I realised I needed to have a conversation with myself and these photographs are the vehicle for that.

TP: Looking forward, what can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?
NC:
Earlier this year began a new project that is an exploration of the personal objects and space of an elderly gentleman who had to leave everything behind because of failing health. He lived alone and has no children, and now strangers are left to go through his belongings and decide what is “valuable” and should be sold and what is to be thrown away. I am documenting these objects and scenes, telling his story.

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