Introducing Rizzhel Javier

Rizzhel Javier is a photography professor at MiraCosta College and fine artist who incorporates photography, video, and sculpture into her pieces.  Keep reading to learn about her interest in historical photographic objects and the personal nature of her work.

How did you get started?

I found photography spontaneously. I did ceramics for eight or nine years. When I graduated high school, I went to Humboldt State University. I was taking ceramics classes there, but ended up connecting with one of the teaching assistants, Joshua Unterman, and took a photo class he was TA-ing (Teaching Assistant). I never touched clay again. It was crazy, because I had this wheel and a kiln and was really invested in being a ceramicist. But after just one week, I started selling it so I could get photo gear.

I had a great photography teacher, Don Gregorio Anton. Initially, my interest was in the medium itself, but Don taught me to use photography as a tool to learn about myself. That’s how I fell in love with it. When I was throwing pottery on the wheel, I had mastered the technique, but a bowl never told any stories about how I felt. I loved that form, but found a better outlet with photography.

Are you related to any other creatives?

Even though they’re creative, most of the members of my family have jobs that keep them financially stable. It’s not a surprise they don’t think art is a career that’s stable. I consider myself the black sheep of the family. My parents would have loved it if I had become a good nurse or something like that.

My work is a personal expression, but also pays honor to photography for giving me an outlet for that expression.

How would you describe your work?

My work is a blend of photography and sculpture. I take pictures, but consider myself an artist who uses photography. The camera is a way I can collect images. I use it as a tool, but I don’t think it completes the work.

I love the history of photography. That’s where the shapes and forms come from in my work. I’m not trying to copy something from the past, but borrowing those forms to represent something now. My work is about blending the historical and contemporary aspects of photography.  The forms I use look like historical objects but the images were made with a digital camera by breaking down video. It’s a merging  of those two aspects because I come from a place where both of those things exist.

In high school I was on the yearbook staff making things by hand. Right before I left, we were transitioning to digital. That early experience has taught me to appreciate all parts of the medium. I’ve never been one to argue about whether film or digital is better. I’ve always been someone who asks what it can do and how I can utilize it to my advantage. I pay homage to the medium and what it’s done for me. My work is a personal expression, but also pays honor to photography for giving me an outlet for that expression.

You’ve taught a lot of different art subjects. How have those other mediums informed your work?

Both of my degrees are in studio art. On paper, I’m not a photography major, but I especially enjoy photography and use it in the work I make. My background in studio art has expanded my idea of image making in general. How can I make a photograph look like a drawing? How can I make a photograph that works with ceramics? How can I make a photograph on metal? I like thinking about photography in that way. It gives me more choices than simply making a paper print. I try my best to listen to the photograph and let it dictate the direction the form goes instead of starting with a material and deriving a story from it.


How has the photography community responded to your work?

I just attended the Medium Festival of Photography’s portfolio review.  In this process, each photographer talks with each critic for 20 minutes about their portfolio. I brought in one of my wheels. It felt a little strange because the other photographers showed up with their portfolios in very clean looking boxes.  My wheel was bolted to a piece of wood and it felt odd. My anxiety faded because everyone was interested in spinning the work and asking who I am. It was a nice way to break the ice. 

I purposefully made that work approachable and engaging. There’s something about buttons and handles that encourage engagement and is a reward for the user. People are immediately drawn into the work because of its interactivity. It is something that I am battling with, learning when the forms and content balance.

I take advantage of what multiple images imply. When someone sees multiple images, they know there’s a point A and a point B.  

Can you address the evolution of thought behind your work, both technically and conceptually?

Right before I finished my undergrad program, I took a cinematography class. We were working with Super 8 film and editing by hand.  I ended up with thousands of images. I became intrigued by the repetition of of many pictures. When I got to grad school I took a photo history class where I was influenced by historical objects which utilized multiple images.

I am interested in pushing the narrative in my work.  I take advantage of what multiple images imply. When someone sees multiple images, they know there’s a point A and a point B.  I’m influenced by John Baldessari’s contact sheets where he would present an image with a word on it and use photography as a form of poetry or storytelling. Another influence is Duane Michals and the narratives he uses in his stories.

I love film and movies. It’s a great vehicle to share ideas and another reason why I choose to make optical devices. As a result, I gravitate toward motion picture machines when I consider making work for public spaces. People love film, it’s a universal pastime and I think it’s a good way for people to engage with my work.

Tell me about Move(meant)?

My recent project, Move(meant) depicts very brief moments from romantic relationships—the first time you see this person, the first loving message you receive from them, etc. Each piece is a short story made from hundreds of images attached to a spinning device. I want to present an action that takes place in six seconds but is comprised of 1,700 photos. Because these devices are manually powered, the viewer controls the speed of the story. The viewer receives as much information from the object as the effort they put in, in the same way that two people only get to know each other better by putting more effort in the relationship.

Who have your mentors been?

The biggest influence has been Don. Don works primarily in self-portraiture and deals with internal struggle. For me, it is very bold and daring. He’s trying to photograph something you can’t see. It was a new concept for me. Most people want to take pictures to document what they see. But how do you photograph what you can’t see? It’s a way of talking visually. When I first started making photographs, I used the camera in a similar way he did and made a lot of self portraits.  After looking at them, I began to understand what I had been on my mind and the photos told a story of what I was experiencing at the time.

When I went to grad school, I got a studio in the sculpture area. I started working with Richard Keely and many of my sculptural influences came from spending time with him. Before that, much of my work looked like photos slapped on sculptures. They didn’t look like they belonged together. The weaving of the two wasn’t happening. When I started working with Richard he helped me to understand the relation between the two.

What do you like best about being an artist?

All the people I’ve met. Much of what I learned from grad school came from being involved with my fellow students. It’s not just about where you go to school but about who you end up going to school with. My studio mate, Andrew Hunter, had a previous degree as an engineer. He taught me much of what I know about electricity, gears, etc. I didn’t sign up for that education, but it just happened. At The AjA Project, I’ve surrounded myself with like-minded people who have the same interest in photo education. I benefit from everybody’s knowledge.

I find comfort in the feeling of wanting to make more.

What do you find the most challenging about being an artist?

The hardest thing is working on ideas to the point that it consumes you. You yearn for the time or funds to make these things. It’s a continual challenge for most artists. However, I find comfort in the feeling of wanting to make more. Those are the kinds of motivations that keep people going. It’s a double-edge sword. I always want more time and money to make work, but you have to balance it with real life.


How do you know when a series is finished?

Though I don’t feel like they’re ever finished, exhibitions and shows tend to set those markers. But, even as I put Move(meant) up, I was making notes of how I wanted to improve the work. After setting up the Move(meant) exhibition, I was telling my friend at the gallery of some new ideas for the work. She told me to let myself enjoy this day before moving on—I should congratulate myself for getting to this point.

Another marker is when new work begins to shift aesthetically. After making the wheels for Move(meant), I began to make series of images that were kept in card catalogs. The viewer would pull them out of a cabinet and flip through them. They still dealt with a high volume of images, but were presented in a different way. The idea wasn’t finished, but the forms which they were taking were changing. As the stories were getting longer, the shapes were evolving to meet their needs. The form changed in response to the content.

What are you working on now?

Recently, I acquired a card catalog with about 20 drawers in it. I haven’t begun filming any content to fill them with, but I’m making sketches to see how I can utilize all the drawers. In Move(meant), the story revolved around one character, but the situations didn’t necessarily line up. Based on the feedback I received, I thought I might try a fully developed story. It may be too ambitious to call it feature length, but I’m interested in how one can make a full movie into a flip-book while communicating the story clearly without sound or text.

The best artists lead by example.

What would you say is the defining characteristic of a good artist?

The best artists lead by example. They aren’t people that only preach things, but they show you by doing it. The best artists are constantly making work and willing to learn.

Do you have a favorite piece?

I do and I don’t own it anymore! It’s from a series of boxed photos that incorporate mirrors. I wanted to make photos that face the wall. The only way that viewers could see the photos was in the reflection of the mirrors on the wall. That’s where I really started experimenting with building. I put it in a student show at a local exhibition. Someone bought it from me. Now, I really regret giving it away.


How do you promote your work?

I set aside one day a week to promote my work. When you’re not in school, you don’t have someone to set deadlines for you. It’s important to establish a disciplined routine. In addition to using social media, I participate in networking events and festivals, work for different organizations and magazines. I apply to a lot of shows and jobs. Even when you fail to get into a show or the job, it is still an opportunity to talk to others about your work.

Where do you see your work in five years?

I see my current work as test machines. They’re small devices that are handheld. They are meant to show in miniature what I would like to do on a larger scale. I’m applying for grants and funding to make them possible. In five years, I hope to see them made.

I’m a firm believer that if you have a dream, you shouldn’t give up.

What advice do you have for budding artists?

I’m a firm believer that if you have a dream, you shouldn’t give up. It’s about persistence. There’s a difference between wanting to be something and acting on it. Whatever you want to do, always be proactive toward those goals. There are all sorts of excuses that can overpower people, but you have to make the work, do the research required, find out what kind of organizations you want to be involved with and apply. 

See more of Rizzhel’s work and follow her on the web:

Web – Facebook

Instagram – LinkedIn

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