Breakfast with Suzanne
There are many fabulous, creative women in my local community. One of them is Suzanne Révy, an inspiring photographer, blogger, and mother. Those of you who live in Massachusetts or southern New Hampshire can see Suzanne’s work in person at her solo show at the Griffin Museum of Photography‘s Atelier Gallery, located at the Stoneham Theater from February 2 through March 21, 2009; reception on February 26 at 6 p.m. For now, enjoy this latest edition of Breakfast — a feast for the eyes and a good dose of inspiration along with your morning cuppa.
CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family headcount.
SR: I am a 47-year-old wife and mother. I have two boys, ages 9 and 7. College days were spent at Pratt Institute, a Brooklyn, NY, art school, majoring in photography. In my professional life, in the days before kids, I was a photography editor at U.S. News & World Report magazine, and did a short stint as acting picture editor at Yankee magazine after moving to Massachusetts. Since having the children, I left the world of magazines, and returned to my artistic roots of college, and took up the camera again.
CC: Tell us about your photography. Given that you shoot with film and print your own photos yourself, how do you feel about digital photography?
SR: There are two aspects to my work. I make commissioned portraits for clients. I prefer to make portraits in natural light, and allow my sitters the freedom to be themselves in front of the camera. The second part of the work is a personal portfolio of images exploring childhood, and childhood play. When my kids were quite young, as I watched them play, I would notice light dancing through their hair…I would watch their hands, feet and toes. Soon I was compelled to make pictures that looked ever closer at the worlds they create.
As for digital photography, I have no problem with it, but I choose to use traditional media, because it suits my vision. And I dislike the obsolescence factor built into so many of our digital gadgets.
CC: What prompted you to start a blog? What keeps you going?
SR: I found that I enjoyed reading blogs written by other photographers, and decided to give it a go about two years ago. I have found the discipline of keeping a blog instructive, and helpful when I want to clarify any thoughts or problems I have had in my work. And, I have to keep my five or six readers satisfied. So, I keep at it!! lol
CC: Where do you do your creative work?
SR: I have a darkroom in the basement of my home, and I rent some studio space about 15 minutes away. All those prints were taking over the house, and I needed a bit more space!! Oh… and if any of your readers are interested in building a basement darkroom…bear in mind that your sink CANNOT be too big!!!
CC: Do you have a schedule for your creative work?
SR: When the kids are in school, I get into the darkroom at least twice a week. During the summer months it gets a little harder, but when I can’t get into the darkroom, I expose a lot of film. Every day.
I find that I have an annual cycle, where I shoot a lot of film during the summer, and processing film is not as time-consuming as printing, so I am able to keep up with processing film when the kids are home.
Then, in the colder months, I make a lot of prints. When I have a printing day planned, I get into the darkroom right after I get the kids onto the bus!
CC: How has motherhood changed you creatively?
SR: As a college student at a New York City art school, I was deeply immersed in learning the creative process. I had a classic art education from foundation year through my senior show. It was an extraordinary opportunity to thoroughly engage in an artistic process. After art school, I was faced with that pesky business of making a living, and eventually landed into the world of editorial and magazine photography as an editor. For a long time this satisfied me creatively, and had the benefit of paying the bills, but my own artistry became dormant.
After marrying, and having kids, I was able to stay home with them, and found myself, as any new mother would, making pictures of my children. I found taking film to a local mini-lab frustrating, and started to think again about working in the darkroom. I was motivated to make beautiful prints of my children to hang on the wall. My artistic impulses that had lain dormant for almost two decades were resurrected when I built the darkroom. I did not realize when I had children, just how much I had missed making art for myself. And being immersed in motherhood made the connection for me.
CC: How do you feel about photographing your own children? How do your kids feel about being your subject matter? Do you obsess about capturing every moment that catches your eye?
SR: I love photographing children. In fact, I love photographing people. I can make an emotional connection to them that is quite unique and apart from the connection I might make with someone in a different context. Looking at their faces and eyes through a ground glass of a camera offers me a unique view into them. It feels like falling in love.
Sometimes, my kids complain about my photographing them, but I think deep down, they find it special. They certainly like it when I make prints of them. As for capturing every moment…oddly enough, I’ve captured enough moments that I don’t need every one. And if we are doing something that I am actively participating in with them, a special day for example, then I don’t make pictures. Or even when they have a concert or play they are performing in. I don’t want to turn those moments into art-making opportunities for me. I want to enjoy them without the distraction of my own work.
And my photographs are about the every day, not really the special days. And there are lots of moments every day to capture. If I miss one or two…well, that’s ok. I will remember them in a different way.
That said, my older son, when he was four, had a bad fall in which he broke his arm and had a large bruise on his face. Fortunately, neither the broken arm, nor the contusion on his face was serious. In the days following, as he recovered, I never made a picture of that bruise. I hadn’t quite immersed myself in photography just yet…and I’ve always regretted not having a record of that injury. I don’t want him to hurt himself again, but if he does…I will remember to record it. Such injuries are an integral part of growing up.
CC: Where do you find inspiration?
SR: I’m inspired by photographers who make good photographs no matter where they are. I am especially interested in photographers who have photographed one subject in depth…Emmet Gowin, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Larry Towell, and Andrea Modica.
In addition to photography, there are amazing things to be found in the history of art, and I never miss an opportunity to go to museums. I’m drawn to the paintings of Caravaggio, Vermeer, Singer-Sargeant, Homer, Edward Hopper, and several abstract expressionists: Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. Oh…and I love the paintings and sketches of Jean Francois Millet.
CC: What are your top 5 favorite blogs?
SR: I have a pretty big blogroll on my blog and in my reader. I have made connections to a lot of photographers through blogs, but if I have to pick 5:
I’m active on a couple of forums as well — the Analog Photography Users Group and Filmwasters. There are a few online photography magazines that I follow, Fraction Magazine, Flak Photo, and Lens Culture.
CC: What are you reading right now?
SR: I just finished The Gift by Lewis Hyde. This book is a must read for every artist engaged in an endeavor that has seemingly no commercial value, because it has extraordinary value to a healthy society. It was one of the most important books I’ve read. Since I haven’t kept this answer short, I might as well add Michael Kimmelman’s The Accidental Masterpiece. An excellent book I read about a year ago.
CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to find the time and means to be more creative?
SR: Make art before you clean the house.
CC: Thank you, Suzanne!