I love birthday photoshoots -- actually, I love birthdays in general. It's a day to celebrate the fact that you were born, to reflect on the last year and set an intention for the coming year. You also get cake and presents and all manner of compliments and favors and free passes. I know birthdays aren't everyone's jam, but I love them. (Mine's in July. Just sayin'.)
Back in January, I had the very great pleasure of photographing Angela Richardson for her 47th birthday. Angela is an artist who experiments with many modes of expression: performance, installations, photography, drawing ... her life is her art and she's incredibly active in the Madison community. When she came to the studio for her portrait viewing, I posed the Proust Questionnaire to her, plus an extra question at the end.
What is your idea of perfect happiness? Lately it’s time out on the frozen lake with Paul & our dog Zizi.
What is your greatest fear? For life to end before I really feel that I’ve done something of significance. But then I think, oh but I have done. One should always live with a good sense of the way that you’ve touched people, large and small -- as an artist, individual, lover. That all counts. So it’s a bit of an unfounded fear.
What is the trait that you most deplore in yourself? I can be very nitpicky at times, which is tied in with perfectionism. If I’m going to subject myself then OK, but if I’m going to direct it outward towards other people, that’s really not cool.
What is the trait that you most deplore in others? I hate it when people are unkind.
Which living person do you most admire? When you see someone who bothers to be kind or help someone out in a moment of distress. Everyday heroes.
What is your greatest extravagance? Travel.
What is your current state of mind? Really happy, especially after seeing the photos.
On what occasion do you lie? I really try not to.
What do you most dislike about your appearance? Boobs. They never fit in shirts the way I want them to.
Which living person do you most despise? Trump.
What is the quality you most like in a man? Compassion.
What is the quality you most like in a woman? Compassion.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? I say "yeah, yeah, yeah" when I get impatient.
What or who is the greatest love of your life? Paul.
When and where were you happiest? I don’t think of life in terms of my happiest moment. I trust that another one is coming.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? To worry less. I’m a world-class ruminator.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Surviving deep depression and living with that little shadow, that monster who’s always there. In some ways that’s the smallest achievement because it’s about the day to day. But also it’s huge because without it, darkness.
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing what would it be? Well, it definitely wouldn’t be a person. It’d have to be some kind of bird.
Where would you most like to live? Point Reyes National Seashore. If there was some way to plant myself somewhere in that park with a permanent abode, I’d take it.
What is your most treasured possession? I have a lot of stuff, but I really try hard not to be too attached. That seems like a recipe for heartbreak.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Depression. When you get in the mindset of forgetting that you have worth and all the darkness consumes you and convinces you that you’re not worthwhile and nothing’s ever gonna get better.
What is your favorite occupation? Artist!
What is your most marked characteristic? Enthusiasm!
What do you most value in your friends? Kindness, honesty and acceptance. Real friends take you as you are.
Who are your favorite writers? I’m terrible at remembering names! I’m reading a book right now that’s all about handwriting.
Who are your heroes in real life? I’m on the lookout for that all the time, because they’re ever-present. We’re surrounded by heroes.
What are your favorite names? Zizi! And the extended version of that is Zilpha.
What is it that you most dislike? How people take the environment for granted, how we destroy it so easily.
What is your greatest regret? I really try not to think that way, because that leads you nowhere. That’s what that little dark monster that’s chasing me wants me to do.
I wanted to ask you about the role that play has in your life. I’ve seen you do a lot of things over the last 10 years and it seems like play is a fundamental part of how you approach life and art. Play goes hand in hand with joy; that’s the way to joy. That’s the way I want to be in the world, playing in the same way as a child, approaching every situation and person with a sense of possibility. That’s what play is: inviting people into some kind of interaction that doesn’t assume anything about either one of us. We’re just playing so let’s just see. Try it on, take it off. Keeping a playful mind about being in the world because that’s the opposite of the darkness and depression, which is about shutting down. Play is about opening way up and maintaining a sense of humor about everything. People get so serious, and that’s that closing down of possibilities.
Play reigns supreme.
It’s a challenge though, isn’t it? A lot of things steer us in the other direction. But can you imagine? How wonderful the world would be if everyone developed a playful mindset.