Aside from being a photographer and a writer, Susannah Conway is also a fan of instant film photography. She has been taking photographs since time immemorial. It’s her curiosity about the world and her understanding of her place in it. Photography breathes through her. Know more about Susannah’s photographic pursuit after the break.
Tell us something about yourself.
I am a photographer and writer living in Bath, England. I lead self-awareness e-courses online and have just written two books, both of which will be published in 2012. I own 30 vintage cameras but my favourites are my Polaroids.
How/When did you begin taking pictures? What was your first camera?
I fell in love with photography at art college in 1992. I remember developing my first roll of film and looking breathlessly at the contact sheet realising I’d found the way to transcribe what I saw in my head onto paper. I studied photography for the next three years, basically living in the studio and darkroom, totally committed to my art. Back then there weren’t any digital cameras, and I didn’t even own a computer, so it was all chemicals and film and I loved it. The first camera I owned was a Canon AE-1 and I experimented with a lot of medium and large format cameras at college.
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’d brought a borrowed digital compact with me to record the week and 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 bought a Canon DSLR and taught myself how to use Photoshop. Then I discovered Holga photography, which rekindled my love for film. I now mainly shoot with my Polaroid SX-70, Holga and Hasselblad 500CM.
Describe your style in photography. What are your usual subjects and themes?
I don’t photograph things but rather look for pictures that say something to me emotionally. I’m very drawn to ordinary everyday scenes that contain interesting details that remind me of something from the past, maybe, or just simply have pleasing shapes and colours and a sense of harmony.
The natural world is hugely inspiring, of course and I love naked branches scratching across the sky, blooming magnolia trees and the beach especially. And I take a lot of photographs of my feet and it’s my way of recording where I am in the world.
Amongst your numerous film photographs, which is your favourite?
This Polaroid of my nephew with my sister is very precious to me. He was only a few weeks old and still so tiny. I was there at his birth and feel very privileged to be his auntie.
We all have our idols, which photographers do you look up to? Who or what influences your photographic style?
If you could take anyone’s portrait using film, can be living or dead, who (would it be), which (camera would you use), and why?
I would love to have taken Marilyn Monroe’s Polaroid portrait. She was beautiful and so incredibly photogenic, but more than that, I would have liked to sit with her, drink tea together and share our hearts. To get to know the real woman behind the iconic images, and then try to capture that on Polaroid film.
Analogue vs. Digital. What makes analogue/film photography more special than digital?
I don’t know if analogue photography is more special’ than digital photography and I see it as simply a different medium, like paint and pencils. I know that digital images can be made to look like film photographs, but it’s just not the same. I love the tactile quality of film canisters and negatives, Polaroids and contact sheets. Polaroid film in particular has a unique softness thanks to the physical properties of the emulsion. I feel more connected to my camera, and the creation of my photograph, when I use my Hasselblad and SX-70 than when I shoot with my DSLR. But maybe I’m just biased because I grew my photographer’s wings using film.
Do you own Lomography cameras? Which is your favourite? / Which Lomographic camera would you like to have and why?
Alongside my Holga GFN I also own a Diana Mini JIYU which I want to play with more. I’m currently lusting after a La Sardina camera to take with me to California next month and I love the colours!
A lot of people are into photography today, what would you say to them to inspire them more?
Shoot photographs every day! It really is the best way to exercise your eye and develop your own style. Setting yourself the challenge of taking even just one or two photographs every day means you’ll be moving through those 24 hours with your eyes wide open. I think photography is 20% technical skill and 80% observation + imagination.
Aside from SusannahConway.com, do you have other creative online/offline projects? If none, what other creative pursuits do you wish you could explore?
My first book, This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart (Globe Pequot Press), will be published in June 2012. It’s a personal memoir of loss, exploration and discovery and is illustrated with over 70 of my Polaroids. I’ve also co-authored another book, Instant Love: How to Make Magic and Memories with Polaroids (Chronicle Books), coming out in spring 2012. In September I’ll be teaching a one-day photography workshop at the Teahouse Studios in Berkeley, California, and next February I’ll be leading a week-long Polaroid retreat in Marrakesh, Morocco with my two co-authors.