words Zarah Cheng
All images are from Briana's portfolio.
Where are you from?
I grew up in Hood River, Oregon.
Describe your photography in three words.
experimental, evolving, diverse
What inspired your p l a y i n g h o u s e series, and what is the meaning behind the title?
Not long before I started this series, my work had been coming from this heavy, emotionally raw place. I went through an intense period of personal transformation in my life, and I think my work had been reflecting that. As I moved out of that space, I wanted to create work that was less emotional for me and more about spontaneous play and visual experimentation.
The way the initial shoot for p l a y i n g h o u s e happened was kind of crazy. The models, Kya and Enrico, came together completely last minute. Kya is a friend of mine and I have worked with her before, but I had just met Enrico days before the shoot. He was only visiting for a couple of days from Berlin but was totally open to shooting with me. I picked them both up, brought a trunk full of props and clothes and other weird stuff, and then we sat in my car and tried to make a plan. Some of the locations I had wanted to use fell through, and we really didn’t have a backup plan. Coincidentally, we were parked across the street from the empty house we ended up using for both of the p l a y i n g h o u s e shoots. I had heard about the house from a friend, but never visited. It turned out to be a dream.
All the plans I’d had for the shoot were pretty much scrapped, and instead we used the house as inspiration and played and interacted with the space. So, quite literally, we were “playing house.”
Where was the series shot?
The house looks a little haunted and creepy. Did any weird things happen while on set?
I don’t think the house is haunted, but I think everyone I’ve been there with agrees there are some “energies” in it. There were some noises that freaked us out, but nothing major. I think the weirdest things that happened were probably situations we created ourselves. There are some photos involving smoke, mirrors and smashed cake that we took in the basement. Those haven’t been shared :)
If p l a y i n g h o u s e had a mood board, what sort of images would you have tacked to it?
You emphasize a process of storytelling and connection with your subjects as you photograph. What sort of direction did you give your models while shooting
p l a y i n g h o u s e ?
On storytelling: p l a y i n g h o u s e is pretty different than some of my other photography. I do a lot of documentary work and emotional portraiture, which really is about visual storytelling. I love that work, but it weighs on me emotionally. It is an undertaking to connect deeply with people and hold space for them to tell me stories about their fears, their struggles, and the skeletons in their closets. p l a y i n g h o u s e is my personal antidote to going to those emotional depths with people. So while people’s minds may have a tendency to see narratives or stories in some of the images, the primary aim of this series isn’t to tell stories, but to play and be present. It’s an attempt to bring my work into a lighter space, though it still reads a little dark.
On connection: I’m pretty selective about who I choose to work with. It mostly has nothing to do with the way people look, and certainly has nothing to do with conventional beauty. I tend to choose people to collaborate with based on how I connect with them. There is an intangible type of energy and consciousness that some people possess, and I seem to be able to read that energy pretty well when I first meet them.
On direction: I typically don’t give my models a lot of direction. I tend to find people to work with that don’t need me to tell them what to do. I love working with people who know their bodies, are comfortable being seen, and who come to shoots with their own creative ideas. My favorite collaborators tend to be dancers and other performance artists. Sometimes I invite people on shoots who have less experience with pretending, and then there is some direction involved, but mostly my shoots involve everyone suggesting ideas of what we might do next, and all of us working together to make it happen.
I love Diane Arbus’ work! She was one of my earliest inspirations when I first started to really discover my passion for photography and was taking a lot of street portraits of people I found interesting.
Lately, I’ve been inspired by a lot of new artists doing conceptual work. Kyle Thompson, Gregory Crewdson, Can Dagarslani, Kostis Fokas, Blaise Cepis, Prue Stent, Ren Hang, and a lesser known group of artists from a few years ago called Jan Family who also made a lot of great photos of people interacting with ordinary objects and locations in unconventional ways.
You mentioned that p l a y i n g h o u s e is actually an ongoing project. What can we expect next in the series?
I’m not really sure yet, but I can’t wait to see what I make! I have a few other locations I want to play in, bunches of concept ideas written down on my phone, a growing pile of props and clothes in my garage, and a list of awesome people I’m hoping to collaborate with.
I have so much creative energy, and I’m inspired by so many things, I often wish I just had 2–3 models with me in my car at all times. Trying to schedule with people, particularly artists, is one of the most difficult part of my process, but I know when we are all together in the same space, awesome things are going to happen and we’re going to have fun doing it.
Favourite horror film?
Oh goodness. I don’t watch that kind of stuff. I can’t handle it. When I was about 10 I had to leave my own living room during a party where everybody was watching Tremors. It was embarrassing. I also have a vivid memory of my brother and sister rewinding and replaying a VHS tape of the scene in Jaws when one of the guys gets bitten in half. I definitely cried. I think I was kind of traumatized by some scary movie experiences early on, and I haven’t really wanted to risk feeling that way again.
Best food truck in Portland?
I had a pretty amazing sandwich from a Bunk Sandwiches truck last week with pickled beets, arugula, chevre and horseradish. My face was stained pink, but it was delicious.
What creeps you out the most?
The impending reality of a dystopian future. But then I zoom out a little bit more. We’re all okay. Everything’s okay if you give it time and perspective.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE