JOANNA C. VALENTE IN INTERVIEW WITH LISA MARIE BASILE
LISA MARIE BASILE: Let's talk about your #Survivor Book — it centers on survivors of all sorts, including survivors of body, gender, and physical trauma. It's deeply aligned with all of your work as a writer and, also, as a photographer — so, how, specifically, did this book come to fruition?
It was kind of an accident, to be honest. I was at a residency to work on writing (specifically, my novel Baby Girl and Other Ghosts) at Denniston Hill. On a whim, I brought my camera with me just to have a creative outlet other than writing so as not to burn myself out. I personally like to multitask with my creative projects, because it keeps everything fresh - and keeps me challenged. So, I ended up taking photos every day and began to focus on the energy around me and how that made me reflect on my own body and my own energy. How do those things merge, outside and internal energies? As a witch and tarot reader, I have always been preoccupied by these themes and thoughts, particularly when it comes to healing. A lot of dialogue around and within the survivor community doesn't always focus on healing itself, and often focuses on how it happens, what it looks like. Those are, of course, necessary parts of the process for us to understand.
But my focus is more on the individual and the individual's path to healing and fulfillment. As I took photos of the landscape, I thought about how we have abused that land, how that land soaks up energy from the people who have inhabited it. I sought to do the same with the body, so I began to use myself as a muse, largely focusing on empowering myself as a survivor, while also just trying to capture myself as a survivor in the moment, vulnerable and as I am - without crafting too ornate of a photoshoot that makes it something else entirely. For me, the key element to the project is its authenticity and truthfulness to the land and the body.
LISA MARIE BASILE: How did you decide to pivot from poetry to photography in this specific text? Also, cnn you talk a little more about the photos you took of yourself? Was this a move toward autonomy?
In this case, I didn't want the editorial gaze and editorialization of poetry, of language. Language is a beautiful spell, a kind of magic - but I wanted to focus on capturing something as it is, in its vulnerability and true form, rather than channeling the energy into something else entirely. In this way, however, the autonomy becomes center to it in a way that it doesn't with writing. Writing, of course, is completely controlled by its author, but a photo is an interesting, intimate collaboration between the artist and its subject, whether human or nature. In some way, it is me giving away control and autonomy to another being, and building trust, but it's also a way to gain empowering autonomy within the very choice of that relationship, and being autonomous in steering the shoot and the artistic direction.
There are captions to the photos, which does bring an element of language to the photos, to give them some context. This context, however, gives to the healing process and gives meaning to that journey. However, it doesn't give context to each survivor's journey, because those details are irrelevant. We are all survivors, and our details don't need to isolate us - however, our being and vulnerability and experience can connect us in ways that are magical. That energy is real and palpable, and we can use it for good. In a way, this book is one big healing spell, hoisting all of this energy in a hopefully positive way for people.
LISA MARIE BASILE: The idea of including an accompanying digital photo series outside of the book is lovely. It gives lots of people a chance to take part. What do you hope the overall message is, and how do you want to change the way we talk about survival and allyship?
I want to make it move beyond gender and sexuality, and those stereotypes and concepts in our head. When we talk about pain, trauma, and struggle, we often talk about it especially in those terms, which are very isolating to the queer communities. If someone, for instance, identifies as nonbinary, where do they fit into that equation? Most times, the conversation tends to focus on certain demographics and I don't think that is always the most helpful approach. I've had countless people tell me how they thought they couldn't tell anyone of their experiences, because they wouldn't be taken seriously because of their gender - or that they would be ostracized or not believed. That's incredibly painful, to feel as if you are being silenced, and then to invariably silence yourself. That creates an entirely different kind of trauma - and having a lack of support is the opposite of what should be happening.
So really, I want to break down barriers. I want people to realize anyone can be a survivor; there is no one person or body that fits the description. If we come from a place of love and empathy and compassion, rather than trying to draw boundaries and pictures of what survivors look or act like, we can unify and work together to create a better support system and community. Isn't that the point, to help each other? I realize it's not always so easy, especially because our own ideas of ethics and justice and safe spaces vary, but it's impossible, in my opinion, to build a truly inclusive and safe space if we aren't welcoming of everyone.
LISA MARIE BASILE: You obviously work with ritual and magic. Have you ever performed meditation, spellwork or ritual around body/healing/and gender and identity?
I definitely have. I meditate (mostly) every day in some capacity (usually in the morning) and definitely work with rituals and spells when I need to. Being a tarot reader has also been a miraculous journey for me in this regard. People often look at the tarot as being gendered, such as having masculine or feminine traits (such as the Empress or the Emperor cards). While I don't debunk anyone's relationship or reading to the cards, as every reader is a little different and has their own unique approach, looking at tarot as gender-fluid has been freeing for me. We can embody various "traits" while also not embodying one particular gender, for instance - and I use the cards in a way that feels authentic to that. How, for instance, are the cards showing me what my energy levels are like in a particular moment? How are they changing and what does that mean for me, as an entire being on a journey to happiness?
LISA MARIE BASILE: I think a lot about healing — one another, ourselves, the earth — from our daily traumas, generational traumas, and the trauma that humans have done to one another and the earth. I also think a lot about how art itself, and sharing it and including others, is an act of healing.
What are your thoughts on how writing and art can make us better?
I definitely am a huge proponent and believer that art as a whole heals us. It's therapeutic. How could it not be? It can allow you to become more self-aware of your motives, your emotions, your past, and how those things cause you to react. It can help you heal and work through trauma, finding a creative outlet to tunnel and channel your emotions. Channeling emotion is a form of magic; language is actualizing something into reality, and that is a form of magic. That is healing. When other people come into contact with that work, they begin their own relationship around it, and it can help them actualize their own feelings and experiences. The effect is endless, and it creates a spiritual community even if it's not something overtly on the surface. Any time we are connected deeply to ourselves and others, that's spiritual to me. We are channeling and exchanging energies - and that's life-saving. Being isolated is the worst thing that can happen to a human, and for me, art has always been the opposite of that, as a connector.
LISA MARIE BASILE: How can people learn more about your book and the series?
They can go to my website (joannavalente.com) and see photos, engage with the interview series, and get in touch with me if they want to talk about it or get involved. I also post a lot about it on my Twitter and Instagram (Twitter: joannasaid, Instagram: joannacvalente). I'm pretty easy to find these days.
LISA MARIE BASILE: If people want to learn more about you, where can they start?
Also my website! And social media. All of it is, thankfully, just my name, so it makes me easy to find.