From classical art to striking faces and serendipitous encounters, Bournemouth-based photographer Susannah Alltimes finds inspiration absolutely everywhere. Effortlessly draping a captivating narrative across each and every frame, she aims to showcase the individual beauty nestled within a moment, face or place. We got in touch to find out more about her process, and to chat about art, beauty and her thoughts on the changing nature of photography.
Hello, Susannah! Welcome to the Lomography Magazine. Please tell us a bit about yourself. What got you into photography?
My earliest memory in connection to photography is when I was gifted a huge red and yellow film camera by my parents at the age of seven. I remember it had two handles on each side, and I always struggled to press the shutter button because I didn’t want to drop it.
When I was 14, I worked a paper round for a year to save up enough money for an Olympus camera. Studying art and photography trained my eye to see the smaller details in everyday life, from reflections and shadows to textures and colour, and taught me how to process film. To this day, the darkroom is still one of my favourite places to be. I love that you can create an expressive piece of work out of a split second exposure of light!
When I left school, the wonderful people at YOUYOU Mentoring, a charity for 18–23 year olds, paired me up with commercial portrait photographer Adam Lawrence. He taught me how to work in a studio, experiment with different equipment and lighting techniques, interact with clients and creative directors, and so much more. I gained confidence in my work, and started on my own creative journey.
I think I have always been drawn to photography because I am so intrigued by people and the natural world — how foundationally we are all so similar yet have our own unique stories to share. I love how a passing moment in time can be fixed in place forever.
You take such striking portraits. What is it about someone’s face that makes you want to capture it in an image and tell that person’s story?
Portraits are my favourite. The uniqueness and depth of someone's face is formed through expression, eyes, skin tone and bone structure. The face carries so much power.
When I see a face, I wonder where that person has come from, where are they going, what is happening in their lives. I believe that everyone is beautiful, and my biggest goal when capturing a portrait is to show that person a new depth to their beauty they may never have seen before.
Today, beauty carries such a heavy weight. If you’re not “classically beautiful”, you’re made to think that you are lesser to others. I completely disagree with this — I know that everyone is beautiful, and it is what’s nestled within my sitters heart that I want to capture in my portraits.
Your portraits are scattered with intriguing props and details — one subject floats in water, one holds an ice cream, one wears enormous pearl earrings. What’s the thought process behind including certain features in your frame, or placing your subject against a certain backdrop?
Usually, when I’m taking someone’s portrait I ask them to take me to their favourite place. Most of the time, I don’t know the place so I just improvise with what is at the location when we arrive. This happened with the water portrait — the subject took me to a private members’ club on the River Thames, and we went to the pool as she loves swimming. We shot around and in the water for about an hour, and that portrait was what I captured.
For my personal projects, most of my models are my close friends. When I am styling a shoot, I love to add in the character of the model to the shot, but to make what I know of their character extra bold, such as using huge earrings or using bright coloured clothing. Most of my photographs have emblematic meanings — each detail holds from location choice down to the socks, which I love as it gives the final photograph/project more depth.
The shots in your Space & Time projects are beautifully candid. We love the one of little mischief-makers rifling through a fridge of fizzy drinks! How do you decide what to include in each frame?
Most of the time I’m thinking “Get the shot, get the shot!!!” I have failed so many times because the moment has gone or I’ve got the shot but the quality of the image is not up to standard. I’m always shooting from the hip, so in the moment I don’t really see the frame. A lot of time goes into cropping and straightening the shot afterwards!
My Space & Time projects are made from walking for hours on end around the cities exploring and hoping for something interesting to shoot. When I get something I think is unique or a scene I haven't seen before, I get so excited because I get to share it with the world, the audience get to gaze at something that happened for a split second, and add to the story in their imagination.
So far, you’ve taken the Space & Time project to New York and Berlin. Where's next?
I would love to travel to Ethiopia, the rich cultural heritage and ancient civilization really interests me. I don’t know too much about the country, but what I do know about the food, landscape, language, community, lifestyle is fascinating. It seems so different to anything I have encountered before. I would love to learn more about Ethiopia and share it with others through a candid street-style project.
Your most recent project DYNAMIS is inspired by a Peter Paul Rubens Renaissance painting. Are you often inspired by art?
I studied art from a young age and have always visited art galleries for inspiration. The National Portrait Gallery in London is my favourite. I love reading about the stories within the pieces — art is so valuable in documenting culture of the day. Art as expression, skill and imagination coming together to create a remarkable painting, sculpture, print or digital image, is to me the most wonderful thing.
The painting is Massacre of the Innocents of Bethlehem (1611-1612), inspired by the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 2, vs.13-18. I find the energy of the painting so captivating. I was drawn to movement created by the vast amount of silk material draped over the naked and suffering subjects. It really brings this epic scene to life. The dark and evil story of the massacre of children really struck me, and so I wanted to curate epic scenes which tell the opposite story. By using natural light, a church building, vivid materials, models of all different ethnicities, and placing symbolism throughout the individual photographs, I created divine scenes which I hope bring, hope, life, purity and peace to the audience.
Your project #TravelTraits is an innovative way to capture everyday life in London. Could you tell us a bit more about the project, and the inspiration behind it?
I travel on London transport everyday. It takes up so much of my life, and I love people watching, so I thought I would turn my travel time into something of a productive photography project. I sneakily snap away using the portrait mode on my phone camera, and then upload them to my Instagram story for my followers to see.
My inspiration for this project is the photographer Vivian Maier. She shot candid street photography of passersby in Downtown Chicago and New York City in the 1950s and 60s. Her powerful photographs tell stories of poverty-stricken children mixing with the new wealth of Americans. Her photographs are sparks in time which hold weight and emotion but they also show — as I view them today — the history of the idealized “American Dream”. This inspired me to capture the tired, overworked, busy commuters of London town.
Now that phone cameras are of such high resolution, we’re seeing more and more projects created solely on smartphones. Do you think this is something you will experiment with more? What do you think about this style of photography?
Definitely! I would love to do a whole fashion shoot using only a smartphone. It would be a challenge, but the quality of cameras which have been developed for smartphones are stunning — sometimes even better than DSLR cameras! I love being able to capture a scene, edit it straight away, then upload it to my social media feeds, in literally a few moments. It’s very “millenial” of me, but I love sharing what I am experiencing in real time.
One of my favourite Instagram accounts is @therainbow_is_underestimated. The account is run by Piero Percoco, who uses his phone to document the life of mainly older residents of Apulia, Italy. The images are vivid, intimate and dynamic. Check them out!
How do you find taking pictures of people in the street, or on public transport? Are people generally pleased to be photographed?
Taking photographs of people in the street is a challenge, especially when trying to capture people without them knowing. As soon as people see a camera, they change demeanor and a projection of their character comes out, which most of the time is not what I originally see or want to capture.
However, when someone does catch my eye and I can’t let them pass by, I approach them, compliment the thing which captured my attention, which they love. It usually boosts their confidence, which then makes it easier for me to ask them for a portrait. Generally, in return, they allow me to take a few shots.
What’s next for Susannah Alltimes? Any exciting projects in the pipeline?
One of my dreams is to collaborate with a publishing company to create a book of my #TravelTraits. I’ve just moved from my hometown of London to Bournemouth for a year, where I’ll be getting ready to set up an art gallery in the South Coast. This is exciting, but it will be a big challenge as I have never done anything like this before! I’m looking forward to meeting artists of all ages and backgrounds who are creating powerful, inspiring, beautiful work.
I’d also like to start planning a road trip through the southern states of North America. I’d love to meet the pastors and congregations of small-town churches, and study the impact of mega churches. I love community, and want to understand and show how the Christian community gives many people hope even in the toughest situations. I want to tell the stories of people’s faith through a raw photographic project.