Christine is an introvert, and it works very well for her. She’s calm. Centered. No drama. While she relishes her solitude, she doesn’t shy away from being with people. And she gets people. As a portrait photographer, she nails the core of their being in her photographs.
In the early 2000s, Christine traveled the byways of America meeting people in villages and communities, documenting their professions by capturing them in their work element. Her book “Working in the USA” is a love letter to working folks, a fascinating study of people ordinary and extraordinary, all the more poignant because she shot each one in black and white.
I dare you to open her book and try to close it after a few pages. I sure couldn’t. Its width straddled my lap and I turned page after page, unable to stop looking at the next person — a firefighter, a Cajun accordion maker, a gold miner, a shrimper – each with their earnest face surrounded by the tools of their trade. Proud people. Humble people. Dignified.
For an introvert, Christine excelled at traveling in her RV and meeting all kinds of people along the way. She stills lives in that same RV… since 2001. These days, she winters in Scottsdale, Arizona, and summers in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
From Denver to Daring
Growing up in Denver, Christine enjoyed spending solitary time drawing and coloring when she wasn’t out being “one of the boys” with her two older brothers. From an early age, she was immediately attracted to pencil and charcoal drawings, which formed the basic artistic thread running through her life; producing works in black and white.
Christine also loves animals and had planned to be a veterinarian, until one summer when her mother arranged for her to work on a pig farm in South Dakota. “I realized I didn’t like seeing animals in pain,” Christine says.
These days, she photographs portraits of rescued and protected animals, like donkeys, horses, goats and sheep, and transfers their black and white images onto wood panels that she embellishes with white tissue paper, textures and paint or encaustic.
Christine’s animal faces are charming. But photography and mixed media pieces aren’t her only creative outlets. She also cooks. Each winter, she exhibits at the Arizona Fine Art Expo and also runs the Expo Cafe with her assistant, Caroline Kwas, also an exhibiting artist. Together, they prepare breakfast and lunch seven days a week for visitors and resident artists.
Each summer, Christine hosts multiple Art Spas in Santa Fe. While her business partner teaches painting classes, Christine prepares their meals and demonstrates cooking. She focuses on healthy vegetarian foods while explaining the cooking process. In a recent Art Spa, she taught everyone how to create and roll their own spring rolls.
Christine’s Expo gig in Scottsdale goes beyond just showing her art and cooking wholesome foods (which keeps her busy for 80 hours each week). She is also part of the crew that erects the giant u-shaped white tents for the Expo.
The show launches mid-January and she arrives from Santa Fe in November to get the Expo up and running, along with the show managers and facilities team. When the Expo closed on March 25, Christine spent April leading the crew in dismantling and packing up the massive tent for storage until next year.
During the Expo, Christine stays busy painting, running the cafe and then walking to her RV out back each evening where she continues to make her art.
Many people dream of pulling up roots and following their passion, living an endless summer in mild climates. Christine is doing it, though she admits it’s not as freeing as it might sound. The hours are long, the work hard and the pressure is on to make a living from her art.
“You can do anything for 10 weeks,” Christine laughs. That’s her motto for this year’s Expo.
Though her location changes, Christine’s focus on producing art never does. She continually learns from customer feedback, what’s selling and what’s not, to try new things. “I’m always chasing that carrot,” she says, laughing. Making a living from art drives Christine each day to discover new ways to market what she does.
Working in the USA
Christine received her college degree in psychology and worked for a year counseling troubled youth for $6 an hour, which was minimum wage. Working with the kids was fine but after a year, Christine realized her co-workers were the ones with the more severe issues. To compensate for work stress, she took a class on darkroom techniques and promptly fell in love with it.
She also took a couple of pre-med courses for genetic counseling but soon determined speaking with pregnant women about potential baby problems would be too taxing. When her father pointed out how passionate she was about her hobby of photography, and encouraged her to consider turning professional, she took his advice.
Christine chose commercial art photography over her pre-med studies and started her own Portrait studio in Denver. She liked to experiment, to stretch her creative muscles, and worked with infrared film, which plays off of the red spectrum to produce ethereal photos.
For six years, Christine ran her business and also spent two of those years caring for her aged grandmother. Soon, feeling stifled by traditional portraiture and her home life, she longed to follow her creative urges to travel and take pictures.
Always a traveler at heart, Christine had taken solo trips to China, Singapore and Hawaii. She knew her new dream of traveling the U.S. and taking photos was doable, with proper preparation. She talked about her project with a purpose. She dreamed about it. Finally Christine’s dad convinced here there was no time like the present to chase a dream.
Again, she listened to her dad and set her departure date for one year ahead.
Heeding the wanderlust call, Christine bought a 29-foot RV and converted the main bedroom into a compact custom darkroom. In April, she set out to visit all 48 lower U.S. states and photographically document workers of all professions. Her project, called Working in the USA, was a way for Christine to show people in other countries what real Americans look like, as opposed to those seen on TV shows and in movies.
“We’re a nation of diverse people who work hard,” Christine says, “and work is a common theme all over the world. The first thing we ask when meeting someone new is ‘what do you do?’”
For three-and-a-half years, Christine traveled 70,000 miles with her cat Ansel and her dog Gracie. When her travels were over, she worked on producing her book “Working in the USA,” which was published in 2006.
Christine had finally burst out of traditional portrait methods and captured people from all walks of life. Along the way, she learned to avoid tornado alley in May and June, to avoid the north in the winter, to look for free RV lots, to lay low while parking overnight at truck stops and to overcome her natural shyness to approach people and learn their stories. She was traveling before people were actively blogging and before social media provided a platform for instant sharing. She wrote about the people she met, in addition to photographing them, and she still has many stories to tell about the people in her book. I’m looking forward to hearing those stories. And to seeing what Courageous Christine does next.
“There are no excuses to not travel,” Christine says. “Don’t wait for a traveling companion. Don’t wait to pursue any dream. Get out there. You’ll survive.”
Christine should know.
The name of her RV says it all: Dream Catcher.
Podcast – Keep Your Day Job: Radical Sabbatical