A Conversation with Cathy Xu ‘21, Ariana Wasret ‘21, and Jacina Hollins-Borges ‘21

By Alyssa Tirrell ’22, Arts and Culture Editor

Astoria by Cathy Xu ’21, Ariana Wasret ’21 and Jacina Hollins-Borges ’21

Alyssa Tirrell: Let’s start off by talking about where this whole project started. I know some of the photos were taken at different times and it all came together recently. Could y’all talk about the path of how it became something cohesive?  

Cathy Xu: This is actually a final project for a class. I was supposed to be abroad and taking Intro to Fashion Photography. Once everyone had to leave at the end of February, the class became remote and the professor basically was like, “I want all of you to create a magazine and do each role that would be included in a magazine production.” That’s why I took a lot of the self portraits. And then I didn’t want it to be just centered on me, so I [included] pictures I took from before of Ariana and Jacina and asked Ariana for her self portraits.      

AT: Ariana, when did you take those self portraits? Or where did those come from? 

Ariana Wasret: Um.. I don’t even remember what month… was it May? Maybe April. It was probably April. It was just me being home, like, COVID boredom. I feel much more inspired, actually, being at home, ‘cause it is less stressful for me, and my creative mind is just like “ahhh!” So, I’ve been doing a lot more photo shoots and this was the first one I did. I’m the only one I had to take pictures of, so I took pictures of me. 

AT: And the photos of Jacina, Cathy did you take them? 

CX: Yeah, I took them. I don’t even know when that was. I’m looking now. Those were taken November 2018. And the ones of Ariana and Jacina together were February 2019. 

AT: It’s cool that it became something so cohesive, that it ultimately fit with what you were doing Cathy. A lot of Astoria has to do with childhood, and introspection, and being home. Which are things that mean different things to different people, especially in COVID times. Would each of you talk about either a moment or an image in the magazine that has stuck with you or feels meaningful to you? 

Jacina Hollins-Borges: I can’t remember exactly what it looked like, but the one with the poptarts. Just because it seemed [like] the most innocent version of home in the magazine. You know, home and remembrance. I liked it a lot just because it, I don’t know, it’s nice. Ariana was saying [that] she’s a lot calmer at home, but I’m not. I hate being home for such long periods of time. So, I think I liked that picture the most just because it reminded me of what’s good about home. 

AT: Cathy, what kind of thought process went into coming up with that photo?

CX: Really, it’s because Claire Saffitz had put out a challenge like, “If you wanna try and make the gourmet pop tarts at home.” I haven’t been doing as much art as I thought I would be doing at home. It’s been translated into cooking a lot more and baking a lot more. And so, I was making those pop tarts as just a baking challenge, and then I started thinking that they were such a big part of my childhood. I don’t even think I really ate them that much, but I remember asking my mom for them a lot and also really liking all the different colors. Just in general, [this is] something I noticed [about Astoria]. A lot of the photos started off as basic color pallet/color scheme inspiration. Like I say in the magazine, a lot of it is inspired by hometown colors. And so [I’m] looking for clothes that go with that, and end up finding some type of a tie to something that reminds me of home. It was just a coincidence that I started thinking about context more and created that shoot with the poptarts. Even the tulips one, I just had an orange coat and it was actually my mom’s old coat. And I just started thinking about what props would go well with that and I thought about tulips. And then that transported me to thinking about my childhood with tulips. And so I think it’s indicative of how like parts and pieces from our home, and memories from our home and childhood, kind of just emerge on their own, subconsciously. What I really like about the shoot with Jacina is that it was bright colored, with the white and the gold. I remember that while we were doing the photo shoot I did not direct her at all and her immediate intuition was to start doing poses that were somewhat reminiscent of her gymnastics past. So I think the way that we call upon the things that are familiar to us or that we grew up on was something that became very obvious during the process. 

AT: Do you feel like that’s been a part of feeling more creative while at home, Ariana? Does that resonate with what you were saying before? 

AW: Yeah, for sure. When I was younger and just getting into photography I think I felt inspired way more often than I have in the last couple of years. Things that I have gotten inspired by have been external things, lately, like, clothes or environments. But since I’ve been home and I’ve been feeling more inspired like I did when I was younger and when I first started getting into art, I’ve been feeling more inspired internally. 

AT: It’s cool that this medium lends itself to what y’all are talking about. In what ways do you feel like this medium specifically — photography or fashion photography — is the ideal way to talk about these themes? 

CX: I’m trying to differentiate between taking these self portraits versus if I were to just paint myself. In both of those, there is an insertion of the self and you see yourself, but I think in photography there are many different tasks. It was interesting to see that I was the one making the decisions with what I was wearing, with the makeup that I was doing, with wherever I was placing props, and what backdrop I was choosing. So, in that sense, [all of these] tasks were influenced by whatever my relationship to the theme was. It was a lot more self exploration through different mediums while creating one photo. 

AW: I agree that in photography you have these things that actually exist, in real life, that you have to connect to because they are real. Another way that I feel creative is writing. Like Cathy said about painting, it’s more internal. With photography you have to take pictures of things that are around you. So, it’s more about exploring physical space, and so that’s why, since I’m stuck at home, I’m forced to examine my home spaces in a way that I haven’t been able to in a while. So, in that sense photography makes you connect with what’s physically around you instead of what’s just in your head. 

CX: And I would even add that I think that makes sense because I was forced — we were all forced — to quarantine and to be at home. I think if I were still abroad and taking this course, there obviously would be parts of me that would be expressed through the photos and through the decision I make in the photos, but I think it wouldn’t be as personal. Because it’s harder to examine the things that are closer to you. I think that being forced to be at home, I had to start examining home itself and start examining things that are very interpersonal. It definitely created a much more intimate project than I expected.