A Conversation with Raquel Nave



I’m in Raquel Nave’s living room flipping through her binders of polaroids while her three-year old daughter Eagle periodically interjects “that’s my mama,” “that’s my papa,” and “that’s me.” While we talk, Nave moves seamlessly between artist and mother modes, telling me about her work and talking to Eagle about going potty, the pitch of her voice modulating ever so slightly as she glides into a motherly tone. She has a new tattoo on her hip, the letters M-O-M with a heart around them.

Nave, a model and actress as well as a photographer, is a young mom by today’s standards. Candid self-portraits document her growing baby bump when she first got pregnant at 23. Her photographs have always been autobiographical in content and documentary in style, so it was only natural that her experiences of motherhood, along with images of her boyfriend and child, would show up so much in her work. I first met Nave a few months before at the bar where she was working. She took a job there just to get out of the house, after having spent so much time cooped up with the baby. But even while distracted by an infant to care for and the struggle to find herself as a mother, the bar gig led Nave to a couple film roles: a bit part in Abel Ferrara’s Welcome to New York and a leading role in a film Bizarre, named after the bar and also set there. Now that the baby’s not a baby anymore, Nave is at a point where acting and photography can become even more of a focus for her. I talked to Nave right before she headed to Berlin for Bizarre’s premiere.

When did you first start taking photos?

When I first started modeling, I would test a lot with friends. I would be involved with the collaborative process. Usually they were photography students or whatever and we would hang out and get all these ideas and shoot them. And then I started really modeling and I saw that’s not how it works. No one cares what you think. No one cares what your idea is. It’s just, shut the fuck up and look pretty. I hit a point where I was so frustrated by that and it gave me a need to take power over my own image, so I got my Dad’s old polaroid camera and started shooting with that. I was just taking a lot of this documentary-style stuff and a lot of self-portraits which I didn’t realize would later become a theme.


How did having a kid change your work?

When you become pregnant all your energy goes into that. For me, I didn’t have as much creative energy. The focus of everything became about being a mother and preparing for that. And also at the same time, film got so fucking expensive. The polaroid company shut down and stopped making polaroid film. A new company started making it but now it’s almost 3 dollars a photo so you better know what you want to take a picture of. I really needed to make it count when I was shooting. I had to ask, what do I really need to say at this moment? What’s happening in my experience that I need to document? It changed the way I worked a lot and if you look through my body of work, it becomes much more focused. At the same time, I was questioning what it is to be a mother and all this weird cultural dogma you don’t even realize exists around being a mother. It was weird to suddenly see all of that come up inside me and work through all of that with the images.

As a society we’re so prescriptive with mothers, how they should look, how they should behave.

It’s a strange spot to be in. Being a woman in general, you are judged all the time growing up, but as you become a mother it becomes more intense. In the early years a lot of my work was working through being a girl, being a woman living in America and all the ideas of what I’m supposed to be and getting to a certain freedom and what I really think. And now that I’m a mom, it’s this whole other set of shit.


Did you always think you were going to be a mom one day? Was it different than you expected?

I always felt like I would be a mom. I didn’t know when it would happen. It happened way sooner than I thought. Becoming a mother is such a beautiful experience, you’re bringing new life into the world. But at the same time it’s a death of the woman you were before and the life you had before. So it’s a strange period of new life and also of mourning. I had really bad postpartum depression. You can see it in so many images. You can see some of these photos are after an intense breakdown. It enables a conversation because it’s something that’s not talked about. Even with mothers who do have it, they don’t talk about it. And there’s so many reasons you can have it. It can be hormonal. It can be from not having enough of a support system. It can be this period of mourning your old self and life. It definitely fuelled a lot of the work for me, processing through all of that. Bizarre also represents a time for me when I was working through all of that. I kind of wanted to hide out from the rest of my life. I just wanted to work there, do this thing with my hands, make some cash, and not deal with anything else. I needed to do that. It’s intense to be thrown behind a bar when you’ve been at home breastfeeding a baby for two years. But it was good to just get out of the house. It helped a lot.

But then working there led to this film role and now you’re going to Berlin for the premiere.

I know it’s totally crazy and weird how it all happened. I feel like life has a weird way of giving you what you need. Sometimes we feel like all these things in our lives are separate but then we see how they start crashing into each other. I’m just having that realization like this week because I just snapped out of something. I was in this weird fog for quite a few years. Now I’m ready.