Documentary - NOMINEE: riel sturchio
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Chasing Light is an ongoing (circa 2011) collaborative medium format color film photography project between twin siblings Bianca and riel Sturchio.
Chasing Light embodies the belief that representation, visibility, autonomy, and truth-telling can promote personal empowerment, and open up access to spaces that foster meaningful dialogue and community. Bianca and riel utilize photography as a means to delve into the complications of their respective queer identities and health-related challenges. Bianca and riel were both born premature with severely delayed developmental milestones, which doctors later diagnosed as cerebral palsy (CP). With the help of rigorous physical therapy and medical interventions, riel and Bianca learned how to adapt to their bodies, though, riel’s body endured less trauma and therefore responded more rapidly to therapy. Currently, riel’s CP remains nearly undetectable, while Bianca lives with the physical and social consequences of her visible disabilities.
The project offers raw and unfiltered moments of day-to-day life and includes portrayals of intimate partners, personal spaces, family, and moments of joy, pain, and frustration. Bianca and riel strive to reject the 'disability-as-inferior' narrative and invite a perspective that considers disability as an extension of human body-variance which possesses unique potential for creativity, growth, and adaptability.
The project serves as a conduit to consider riel's position as lead photographer or observer, and how riel's gaze both filters and complicates the narrative. The project also makes space for an ongoing dialogue, where riel strives to make sense of the complex dynamics between her identity, body, and environment--namely the privilege and guilt associated with recognizing her ability to access particular social opportunities and pass as non-disabled. Bianca similarly aims to re-frame how she and others imagine the human body and strives to challenge society's narrow perception of what constitutes as valuable, worthy, and deserving of visibility.
riel and Bianca intentionally photograph in natural light for its ability to show detail, provoke emotionality, and reveal the authenticity of aging and the fragility of skin. Moreover, they employ the metaphorical dichotomy of light and dark to represent the uncertainty in seeking physical, mental, and emotional stasis.
Bianca and riel unanimously maintain that social connections create the foundation for community, and that knowledge is a source of power. Thus, they intend to use Chasing Light as a platform for and by disabled artists, as well as allies who share a desire to challenge dominant narratives of health, (dis)ability, and LGBTQA+ identity. Through this work they often involve story-sharing sessions, free publications with regional resources, and opportunities for in-person dialogue and connection.
Our intended audience embraces anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+ and disabled, as well as friends and family who have interpersonal ties people who identify as such. Our audience is intentional. The dominant social narrative largely excludes people who hold marginalized identity markers--including folks with non-normative orientation, people with disabilities, and people who experience mental health challenges. If a creative project happens to include minority representation, the people involved are often undermined, exploited or represented in a way that is not self-directed. The proposed locations of our artist talk and story sharing session are likely to engage individuals who already identify as being a part of the disability community and/or LGBTQ+ population. We also hope to draw in members of the general public who are not a part of these communities so they can reconfigure a new way of seeing the world.
Our current body of work would not be possible without the support of organizations and granting communities. Bianca and I grew up experiencing poverty and were unparented at a young age. Bianca currently lives on state aid, and it is her only source of income. It is impossible for her to work due to the extent of her disabilities, and all of her money goes towards non-negotiable expenses, like food, heat, and rent. I am in a similar financial bind and make a barely livable teaching salary as an adjunct professor at the University of Texas at Austin. I also have the additional burden of paying off an enormous amount of debt that I accumulated while individually financing and pursuing higher education. Bianca and I often experience breaks in the continuation of our project due to our inability to afford the costs of film, travel, and printing. It’s an expensive endeavor for us, but we are incredibly passionate about this body of work. We have always fought relentlessly to achieve our goals despite whatever obstacles are in front of us. We are both keenly aware that without further financial assistance, we will lose the ability to create the inclusive and meaningful work that we believe in. We lack the financial resources to independently finance the creation of new images, and the expenses related to showing our work, as well as hosting events that engage the community. We sincerely appreciate the opportunity to have support and feel incredibly grateful when we receive help to continue making this necessary work.
Riel Sturchio is from Portland, Maine and currently living in Austin, TX. She studied photography & art history at Maine College of Art where she received her BFA in 2012 and is a Master of Fine Arts candidate at the University of Texas, Austin. Sturchio grew up in various parts of Maine, experiencing both the business of the city and the rural outdoors. Sturchio identifies as a queer artist with interests in social engagement, vulnerability, and identity. Sturchio draws connections between fragility and impermanence from her experiences with cerebral palsy and disease.