Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Aviva Pusey is a photographer and the founder of Collective Casa, a safe space and nourishing community for creatives all over the world.
With her photography, Aviva aims to document her life and experiences — something that she believes that no one else can do for you. Her work is phenomenal, drawing you in and leaving you with an aftertaste of nostalgia and warmth. Despite being young, it is evident that Aviva has years of experience under her belt, and pours her heart into her photographs. Aviva's work as a creative is timeless, capturing the essence of life, in all its different stages.
In this conversation with Aviva, we delve into her earliest relationship with the concept of death and how her religious beliefs influence this, as well as how Aviva's photography is directly connected to death.
Push up Daisies: What has your relationship with death always been like, and how do you view it now?
Aviva: This is a hard question. I have this belief that we don’t think about death until we’re forced to face it. Staring death in the face is one of the most human things to do.
The earliest relationship I can think of regarding death is actually a smell. From a young age, I was aware of the fact that my maternal grandmother was sick. Every weekend, we would drive up to whatever facility she was in and visit her at the nursing home. Right when I walked in, the smell made me sad. It took over my body, it was the smell of death and evolution. Two things that sadly go hand in hand. It is a smell I will never forget, that reminds me of the inevitable. We all die, eventually. And when we would visit my grandmother, I knew that even though she wasn’t always happy, we wanted her to live, and not leave us. That first feeling I felt towards death follows me today.
Inevitability is what we most likely all fear, but that is death. And with life, we must die.
Push up Daisies: Are you spiritual or religious? How do you think your culture affects your perception of death?
Aviva: My sister and I were raised Jewish like our mom. Growing up in Brooklyn, there was access to progressive, open minded synagogues. Though we were still the only two black kids there, my synagogues had its positive outlets. At thirteen, I had my bat mitzvah where in front of friends and family I claimed my role as a Jewish woman in my community. Years went by and my perspective on religion changed.
It wasn’t that I never believed in God, and I wouldn’t say that I don’t now. But parts of me weren’t buying the stories being told. As I learned more about war and the role religion has in dividing and polarizing societies, I began to feel less connected with my “religious roots.” This isn’t to say I don’t have overall beliefs which is a common misconception. But instead, for me, my spirituality is one of internal powers. I believe in myself to produce and manifest my destiny. If I pray, I’m speaking to my inner being, a “God.” With that being said, spirituality is connected to death. When I think about manifestation, it is through the lens of living. Health, and circumstances such as racism and bigotry, contribute massively in our ability to live. So as a spiritual being I take pride in how I take care of both my physical and mental health. This is my fight against death, living a fulfilled and meaningful preset which is part of my spirituality.
Push up Daisies: As a creative, how does the thought or fear of death inspire you? Does it ever drive you to create more?
Aviva: As a creative, I think we have a role to document life. What is living and existing beyond our material world. I believe that if you don’t document your story, no one will. Much of what I photograph some could call a dying age. When I was in high school, I documented me and my friends living our fast teen years. The idea of documenting those days were in many ways is connected to death. As my teenage years were dying, I was documenting it. This also applies to how my photography has evolved. The photos I take now are directly connected to death as I capture the old and new of architecture in New York City. Around Brooklyn, I take photos of old houses, empty lots, images of the construction, and the new houses being built in their place. Gentrification is a huge part of New York City’s history. The city is changing and parts of it are dying, but it is my duty to capture all that exists.
Push up Daisies: How would you like to be remembered?
Aviva: This is a crazy question that I’ve never asked myself before. I want to be remembered as a fighter, and a revolutionary. I hope that when I die, people will remember me for my love of education and perspective. For my lifelong fight for global empathy. My life work isn’t necessarily for me, but instead the people around me. I want that to be known. That despite the society I grew in, I was able to grow beyond it.
Push up Daisies: What are you most proud of in your life?
Aviva: Much of what I am proud of are my four years of high school. It was a crazy and transformative time in my life that was mainly due to finding the power I have inside of me. I became more involved in school, made my social life one that was more healthy, and repaired relationships I had fractured at home. I am proud of my ability to self reflect. Because with self reflection comes the desire to change. And I did. I will forever be proud of those life changing four years.
Push up Daisies: How does the thought of death affect your everyday life?
Aviva: Especially in a time like today, with COVID-19 being so prevalent in our lives, when I think about death, I think about the loss of time. In a COVID world, it is hard not to feel like your time is running out. This affects my everyday life as it is a constant reminder to do what I love, take care of myself and others, and to live everyday to the fullest.
Push up Daisies: In what ways can it be healthy to contemplate death?
Aviva: It is always healthy to think about the things that scare you. If you didn’t, you’d be ignoring the truth and I think that is more dangerous. This is something I have thought about, because generally it's not always great to think about the things you can’t control. But beyond that, death will stare us each in the face and we’ll have to face it. I would rather it be on my terms.
Push up Daisies: Is there something that you would be willing to die for? What would this be?
Aviva: This is hard, I don’t think I have an answer just yet. My family are people I’d do anything for. They give me the chance to live and make mistakes and if death is a way I could save them I would. But as of now, living is the best way for me to honour those I love.