Christina Animashaun Speaks on the Gray Life Project and the Relationship Between Photography and Journalism

Photograph by Christina Animashaun

Photograph by Christina Animashaun

AS A COLLECTIVE, WE WANTED TO TAKE TIME TO HIGHLIGHT THOSE THAT ARE DOING THE HARD WORK OF PURSUING THEIR OWN CREATIVE AND ACADEMIC GOALS, WHILE ALSO PAVING THE WAY TO FURTHER THE REPRESENTATION OF MARGINALIZED PEOPLE IN THE ARTS AND HUMANITIES. WE HAVE CALLED THIS SERIES, TAKING OUR SEAT. FOR OUR CURRENT FEATURE, WE SAT DOWN WITH JOURNALIST, CHRISTINA ANIMASHAUN.

Christina Animashaun -she/her pronouns- is a News Graphics Designer at Vox.com and formerly worked as a Graphics Reporter and Producer at POLITICO. Her work centers around using data visualization and graphics show – not just tell – politics and policy. An alumna of the POLITICO Journalism Institute, co-partnered by American University and the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, she began her work covering the 2016 presidential campaign season building in-house graphics and using open source storytelling platforms that incorporate photography, video, audio and cartography. Her roles in the newsroom have expanded to in-depth investigative reporting and research while supporting newsroom-wide efforts to expand visual reporting. 

Prior to joining POLITICO, she worked as Investigative Researcher at the Washington Post and Graduate Researcher at the Investigative Reporting Workshop. Her she has contributed data analysis, field reporting, and photography to investigative stories by Washington Post, Center of Public Integrity, WAMU 88.1,  Reveal from the Center of Investigative Reporting. 

Animashaun graduated Cum Laude from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County with a bachelors in Visual Arts and Media & Communication Studies. In 2015, she received her MA in Journalism and Public Affairs from American University. 

SPEAKER GUIDE | AB: AKEA BRIONNE & CA: CHRISTINA ANIMASHAUN


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AB: What made you interested in performance art? Looking at your series reminds us of the work of Cindy Sherman, as well as Samuel Fosso. (Both of whom are navigating self portraiture and stage production in the same vein but through different perspectives). Your work has a dramatic element to it that really brings attention to the gaze upon you while creating this work. Can you expand on why a performance was the medium you chose to explore this topic?

CA: My interest in performance art began during undergrad and was born from an established love for visual art. I was studying photography and media and communication studies which allowed me to zone in on creating art and be critical of the art I consumed.

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When forming the ideas that would eventually become this project, I pulled from several mediums and cultural commentaries I was studying at the time. I was interested in Post WWII art movements because of their overt responses to the political and civil unrest of the times, their focus on the accessibility, and their consideration of the audience. That energy traveled across genres. I would start from the paintings of Aaron Douglas, then move to the Kitchen Table Series by Carrie Mae Weems, then over to Rineke Dijkstra’s beach portraits and end with Richard Serra. Or Rachel Whiteread. I truly bounced all over. 

The works that inspired me had a radical use of composition and space. They also displayed an active dialogue about the human body.  So while I danced between painters, sculptors, and photographers, it seemed inevitable that performance art would come into my purview. Composition and space are not static words, after all. 

Adrian Piper’s Cornered was on the first pieces that made settled me into the genre of performance art and brought my work to focus on spectatorship. The installation invites us with physical chairs and disinvites with an overturned table. It establishes access with a video of Piper talking and makes undeniable her identity while shaking the conviction of identity those who gaze. The piece demands movement on many levels and dimensions. I really wanted to evoke those elements in The Gray Life Project.  

I’m very comfortable saying that painting myself gray and walking around cities was a clear reach at spectacle and attention. But it provided an entrance to the stage where the bodies around me could enter. It allowed for contrast within every image taken. It allowed the viewers of the photographs to question who are really the players in each scene. That’s why I chose performance. 

“As a visual journalist, you live within the tension of having a different toolbox even though you’re reporting and researching like everyone else.”

Graphic by Christina for Politico

Graphic by Christina for Politico

AB: Your day job is as a News Graphics Designer at Vox, though you have explored photography quite a bit. Photography and journalism often go hand in hand, but there is minimal discussion about journalism as an artistic medium, do you feel that there is artistry within reporting? Do you view yourself as an artist?

CA: This is a really interesting question. In newsroom environments, I am often reminding my peers that I’m a journalist and not just a designer or a graphics producer. In this context, they are prone to make a distinction between my work and journalism. 

There should be caution in viewing journalism as an artistic medium – or calling it an art object. But it’s very much the case that people often see journalism as just text or speech. As a visual journalist, you live within the tension of having a different toolbox even though you’re reporting and researching like everyone else. 

I consider myself to be both an artist and a journalist. One identity works in tandem with the other. Stories require full diligence to tell the narrative as it happened and the work it takes to be accurate, fair and mindful of bias. These are the editorial parameters I navigate but with my background as a visual artist.   

Working with photography, illustration and data visualization, I find room to play when solving the question of how I will show each story and creating the shape of conflict and contrast. This perspective not only gives me a thesis to return to when working but serves as a reminder of my artistic autonomy.

AB: What do you view as your role in bringing awareness to the topics that interest you? How did the "Gray Life Project" fit into that?

CA: Creating work that brings those topics to view is always important but another imperative role is to consume and critique as much art as possible. The Gray Life Project was a medley of theory and compositional histories. Without doing the background work, it could have collapsed into a performance with very little meaning or just shock value. Reference is critical.

AB: Do you have any plans for to create more work that explores performance and the gaze in a similar way that it was explored in the "Gray Life Project?”

CA: It’s been five years since I performed this piece and while I haven’t returned to the performance genre since, the themes of gaze, color, and photography are still primary themes in my illustrations and current works.


To keep up with Christina and her work, you can visit her website or follow her on twitter at @christinamta