We had the good fortune of connecting with Billie Carter-Rankin and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Billie, have you ever found yourself in a spot where you had to decide whether to give up or keep going? How did you make the choice?
As cliché as it may sound, I try not to force anything. I’ve been working on trusting my voice more, especially with my work. I went through a phase where I heavily relied on outside validation – that if most people agreed or liked what I was doing then I should keep going in that direction. Ever since then I’ve worked on releasing that need for approval. So if I’m feeling like something is being rushed or doesn’t feel like my voice, I take my time until I figure out what it is that I’m trying to say. From experience I’ve learned that if I keep pushing forward, even if it’s a small step, it will eventually work out. Nothing lasts forever, not even creative blocks. I guess that gives me the hope to keep going.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I basically fell into art making.
I had an idea of what I liked to do growing up but I didn’t have a definite plan. Even going into undergrad I wasn’t truly sure of what I wanted to do. I gravitated towards filmmaking, which led to image-making. That felt closer to what I wanted but still felt unfulfilled.
The first semester of my senior year, I studied abroad in London. I took courses under Chino Otsuka, who introduced me to conceptual artmaking and experimentation with photographic materials. It was the first time I felt fulfilled with the work I was doing. I ended up making work that led me to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago the following year for grad school. This process was the first time I really learned to trust my voice. I make work around personal vs. collective memory, and I try to figure out the questions I have through experimentation. I reprint my grandparents’ family photos and paint them with Kodak Selenium toner, a chemical used to preserve images, to slowly deteriorate the images – referencing my observation of my grandparents’ experiences with dementia.
Looking back at everything I’ve been through so far, I’m thankful I haven’t given up. My journey has been filled with uncertainty and complications – more that I can explain in this interview. But I think this is where faith comes in. Going through everything in the moment didn’t feel nearly as overwhelming as it does explaining it today. I’m certain my faith helped with that.
I’m still figuring things out, there’s times where I really don’t know what comes next. But I was taught every experience works out for our good, and in my life I’ve seen that happen – which gives me the strength to keep going. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Shoutout to my grandparents, Jesse and Dora, and my mom for instilling faith and resilience in me from such a young age. The things I’ve seen and experienced from such a young age wouldn’t have happened if they didn’t lay the foundation. I carry everything they taught me in all that I do.