Susannah Conway is a photographer, a writer and creator of the Unravelling e-course.
But she’s so much more than that.
She’s a fellow Polaroid addict whose sense of beauty and wonder is constantly encouraging me to expand beyond my comfort zone, be playful and grow. She’s a very proud aunt who loves with abandon. And a teacher, a friend, whose disarming honesty and full commitment to honoring and celebrating the beauty of life, to sharing what she knows and giving what she has, whether she is holding a pen or a camera, are a gift to all of those who know her.
Susannah kindly accepted to answer the Shutter Sisters six questions interview. And I’m most happy today to share with you her answers here.
1. What’s the story behind this photo?
On a sunny spring morning I looked out of my bedroom window and noticed the street was strewn with pink blossom; so much had fallen it was collecting in piles like pink snow drifts. It took me less than five minutes to get dressed, pull on a pair of Chucks (choosing the yellow pair over the navy – v. good move), grab my SX-70 Polaroid camera and run outside. I shot about four or five photos in total and this one was my favourite.
2. What was it that lit your photography spark? Do you remember a particular camera, course, person, roll of film?
I’m actually a born-again photographer, because I first fell in love with photography at art college in 1992. I can’t remember what I shot but I remember developing that first roll of film and looking breathlessly at the contact sheet as I realised I’d found the way to transcribe what I saw in my head onto paper – I wasn’t a painter or musician or sculptor, I was a photographer! I spent the next three years in the studio and darkroom committed to my art. The second time I fell in love with photography was in Seattle in 2006. It was my first time in the States and I was still grieving the death of my partner the year before. I was visiting friends I’d met through blogging and had brought a borrowed digital compact with me to record the week; taking shots of a new city not only brought me out of my grief for a while but seemed to wake up the photography part of my brain too. Looking through my photos when I got home lit such a fire of inspiration in me I haven’t stopped shooting since.
3. What’s your photo philosophy? Does it reflect your life philosophy?
Film photography is like meditation for me – I slow down my breathing, I focus intently on what’s in front of me, wait for the right moment and then I press the button. I don’t rush taking the photograph because I only have limited film to use – I want to make each shot count, and take my time to feel that the moment is right; if it’s not I move on. I try to live this way too – living mindfully in the moment and not allowing myself to get too caught up in the past or the future. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s a continual practice, just like photography.
4. Where do you look for inspiration?
Everywhere. Whenever I leave the house I have a camera or three with me – even if it’s just my iPhone. Going somewhere new is a photographic orgy of inspiration, but I try to look with new eyes in the familiar places too. Even a trip into town to buy groceries can offer up photo opportunities. I take photos everywhere, wherever I am and whoever I’m with. I take photos of the stuff no one else would look at, as well as the obviously pretty stuff. I see lines and shapes first, then colours and details. I’m always composing with my eyes – I find it impossible to switch it off, actually; I’m the one who lags behind the group to photograph the rust on the side of a skip. My friends and family have learned to tolerate my behaviour
5. What aspect of your photography are you constantly working on, trying to improve?
With every photograph I take I feel I am improving on the last one. I don’t take my eye for granted and am always looking for new ways to capture light or colour or feeling. Shooting with vintage cameras means you have to get to know the quirks of your equipment; I don’t have the guarantee of digital clarity with my SX-70 but that’s one of the reasons I love it so much – it keeps me on my toes!
6. Are there women out there that you consider your shutter sisters? Who, and why?
There are the women who have gone before me that I admire: Dorothea Lange, Diane Arbus, Francesca Woodman and Uta Barth are my four guiding lights, even though my style is different from their work. And there are women I consider my Polaroid sisters: Jen Altman, Amanda Gilligan, Alicia Bock, Andrea Jenkins, Jessica Hibbard, Steph Parke, Darlene & Kristen, Cori Kindred, you, my dear Irene, and many others besides. I love how passionate and supportive the Polaroid community is!
Thank you so much Susannah!
Susannah is currently hard at work on her first book, to be published in spring 2012, and collaborating with Jenifer Altman and Amanda Gilligan on a how-to book about Polaroid photography, also coming out in 2012. You can read more about her shenanigans on her blog at SusannahConway.com and connect with her on Twitter @photobird. Also, registration for the next Unravelling class opens on Saturday, December 4th.