Justin Nalley with Eileen Rae Walsh

Eileen Rae Walsh – Can you describe your photographic practice leading up to your book TAKE CARE?  Did you know those photographs or memorabilia would end up producing that project, or was the project conceived after the images were made?

Justin Nalley – Ok, so this is a great question and the short answer is yes, no and maybe to all of the above.

The years leading up to the release of TAKE CARE (2016) were profoundly introspective and transitional.  The book is comprised of images made between 2011 and 2015, the two years before and after I got sober.  My photographs were responding to the timeline of my addiction and recovery.  Picture making was a constant but my intentions were in flux and returning to a state of consciousness.  I was using photography as a means of journaling, a safe way to share my secrets, ease shame and make things feel real.  I wanted to come out as an addict, to my friends, my family and myself.  Taking a picture forces you into a moment of silent awareness, it’s a thoughtful and comforting act, proof of our relevance and existence.

Photography helped me feel grounded, like I was still an artist and I was still myself.  I have always used the medium to enhance my experience with life; whether that meant exploring, partying, documentation or reflection.  In retrospect I can see that the memorabilia being saved and pictures being made during these years were largely fueled by fear and shame, nightmare emotions for an addict.  Living perpetually in these states altered my perception of reality and influenced the work being made.  In 2013, after getting sober I decided to start working on a reflective book about my current life situation.  I selected therapeutically driven, topical imagery from the year’s prior while continuing to document my experience and illustrate my ideas.  As I began to heal, it became very important to me that TAKE CARE be a work of poetic non-fiction, an honest portrayal that could be used as a means of generating constructive conversation around these difficult topics.

Eileen Rae Walsh – Would you consider TAKE CARE a process that provided closure, the physical object acting as a container for your experience before and after sobriety, or is it a kind segue into a continuing, broader dialog that tells the story of personal healing?  Another way to put it, maybe – Do you still feel that photography and being an artist is the thing that grounds you?  Will future work follow this same format or be different as your personal experiences in life change and grow?

Justin Nalley – Haha yes, these are THE questions I am currently grappling with.  It is a fact that the process of creating TAKE CARE from start to finish was and still is beneficial to my overall emotional state, physical health and growth as a person.  I think its safe to say TAKE CARE did help provide a sense of closure and the book metaphor is strong, but it’s just not quite that simple.  One reason I say this is because addiction is a disease of the mind, it must be consistently nurtured and I am planning on giving my mind a life’s supply of TLC.  I think TAKE CARE acts more as an example of a chapter in life.  Every chapter in a book is informed and inspired by the chapters before it and there will always be a struggle.  Personal healing seems to be more about acceptance.  It is a series of adjustments, listening to your body, mind and altering your actions in the ways that will keep you personally satisfied.

Being an artist helps me to think, it helps me to detach, meditate, see and feel, yes I believe it is grounding.  I believe without it I could easily stay plugged into my subjective reality, current distractions, technological advancements, brain fogged consumer bliss and swirling egotistical mind.  I mean to place no judgments here; I am speaking solely my own truth.

As far as the future goes, I am trying to keep my options open and let the universe assist me with my current goals and missions.  I see my work continuing to address similar concepts as in TAKE CARE, but mostly just because that’s all I care about right now.  It’s November 10, 2016, we have a new president of the United States, there is A LOT happening in the world and when it comes down to it we need to help each other out.  I love people, I am grateful for my life and I want to make work that will inspire physical, emotional and spiritual beauty.

Eileen Rae Walsh – The images in TAKE CARE vary from having a real tactile feel (the scans of ephemera, images of stains and so forth), to idiosyncratic still life, to a unique genre of street photography or images of a particular environment.  There are also several moments of physical mark making on the pages of the book.  Can you talk about how the material nature of the object engages the viewer in your personal story?

Justin Nalley – It’s interesting because 70 percent of the imagery in the book was made for personal documentation purposes before the conception of TAKE CARE.  I spoke about this some in the first question.

I was often making pictures of things or feelings.  It was a back up, incase I lost this thing/feeling, couldn’t take this thing/feeling or needed to remember this thing/feeling.  At this point in my life, making “art photography” was not my top priority, I still did it but often times I was just carrying a point and shoot, documenting life and things that made me feel.

As I went back and addressed the imagery, the themes were very apparent.  It felt important to emphasize the emotive nature of the work, of course, in this case, within the limitations of photography and bookmaking.  These decisions started happening more during the design and layout of TAKE CARE.  Inspiring the soft white book cloth, introduction of my hand, personalization of each book, red pen scribble page, graphite doodles and even the handwritten copyright page.  My hopes are that these subtle aesthetic choices aid in how the viewer understands and experiences the book.

Eileen Rae Walsh – Since we began our dialog, we have entered a post-election landscape, where sincere urgency for change and healing, outreach and collective action are the basis for most conversations I am having with artists and peers.  What are some ways that art, or your practice, is currently helping you to take care? Are there parts of your practice that you think could benefit others during this time that you’d be willing to share?

Justin Nalley – It is my opinion that creativity and its resulting action (art) is instinctually ingrained in us, a tool that awaits times and life situations like these.  I like to think of art in the purist state, as an alternative form of communication and expression, something that can transcend words, inspire activity and evoke emotion.  Like most people I know, I am personally grappling with what is happening in the world, what should be done and how.  I wish I had something extraordinarily enlightening to share but the only thing that helps me is staying current, keeping open communication, an open mind and taking action when I have the opportunity to make a difference.  I do not think we can remain docile, every person’s opinion matters and we all deserve to be heard.  Right now, as a country, we are feeling how hard it is to take care of both others and ourselves.  It seems to me that this task, taking care, will last as long as we do.  It isn’t easy but it will ebb and flow, as things do.  I have always enjoyed using art therapeutically; drawing, writing, etc…  This helped me and I would suggest it to anyone; take an oil pastel and scribble fiercely while visualizing everything that makes you mad, continue until the pastel is depleted, then draw a smiley face next to it.  Below are my scribbles.

To see more, please visit Justin’s website.

TAKE CARE can be purchased here.