Five years ago, Joy Christiansen Erb’s son was born with a congenital heart defect. As a first-time mom, Christiansen Erb’s life was turned upside down, but as a photographer, a light bulb blinked in her head.
“It wasn’t something that we expected at all, but I also knew that I needed to be making photographs of this, so that he could see what he went through and to help me process what was going on,” said Christiansen Erb, YSU associate professor of Photography.
Five years later, Emmet Erb is now a robust little boy, and the Erbs have added a daughter, three-year-old Elinor, to their family. And Christiansen Erb has made her children the subject of her artistic endeavors.
The latest collection of those photographs is on display at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts through May 3. In the exhibit, titled “Markers,” Christiansen Erb examines her role as mother – through success and failure, sickness and healing.
“I love photographing my children,” she said. “They get frustrated just like I do at times, but I also think they see it as a special time between me and them.”
Born in Wapakoneta, Ohio, Christiansen Erb was on her way to becoming a painter at Miami University in the late 1990s when she took a photo class while an undergraduate student. “I fell in love with it,” she says. “I loved the immediacy; I loved that I could be just as expressive with painting, but much quicker.”
She earned a bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Miami and a master of Fine Arts from Texas Women’s University. After teaching gigs in Texas and Louisiana, she joined the YSU Art faculty in 2008.
She’s had nearly a dozen solo exhibitions, from Arkansas and Texas to Wisconsin and New York, and had her photographs included in more than a dozen other shows. She’s won several awards, lectured across the country, and a portfolio of her most recent work is housed at the Museum of Contemporary Photography as part of the Midwest Photographers Project in Chicago.
Most of the work in her latest exhibit was shot during a faculty improvement leave last spring semester. Christiansen Erb chose three of her “favorite” photos in the exhibit and provided the following explanation of each:
13 Days Apart
“While I was on FIL, I participated in an artist residency at the Kimmel
Harding Nelson Center for the Arts in Nebraska. I was separated from my children for a while, and I found myself making work about them through still lifes. “13 Days Apart” is a photograph where I peeled a clementine – which is something my children love to eat – for each of my children on each day we were apart.”
The Little Prince
“This is a photo of my son, Emmet. For me, one of the things I’m thinking about as I make these images is how they represent the growth cycles of my children. This image is fairly simple, but it represents who Emmet was in that moment. I love his gaze and how it shows his intensity. I like the way this intensity complements the more feminine wallpaper in the background, but he’s still this strong little man.”
“This is a photograph of my daughter, Elinor, and one that I imagined in my head for a while. That yarn is my grandmother’s. My grandmother had just moved into a nursing home – she has dementia – and we were cleaning out her house and came across these perfect little balls of yarn all wound up. I like the way this photograph connects my grandmother, who is my favorite person in the world, to my daughter. I just love the thought of wrapping my daughter in something that reminds me of my grandmother.”
For more images, visit www.joychristiansenerb.com.