How is everyone's weekend? I am on the last dash to the finishing line of homeschooling this month. We have TWO more weeks left of "school" to officially break for the summer. Of course, we will continue to polish and hone our skills in reading, writing and mathematics through the summer months. Just knowing that we can make up our schedule as we go is a HUGE load off my shoulders. How about you? Do you have any summer plans yet? Other than the excitement of our early summer vacation, I am in awe at all the beautiful submissions we have received at Little Bellows for the first annual photo contest. I don't even know how the judges can ever decide because you are all so talented! One very special film photographer has been catching my eyes from the very start. Her work is incredibly genuine and full of life! Today, I have the privilege to present you the interview I had with her.
Let's welcome Suzy Brown:
Joyce: To start off our interview, I would love to know how did you first get into photography? Do you have a formal education in photography or self-taught?
Suzy: I'm self-taught with just a few darkroom classes I took in college under my belt. I've always loved photography since I was little but when I was in college I did the whole pre-med thing to become a pediatric reconstructive surgeon (I laugh even thinking back on this). I remember this very specific moment where I was studying for the MCAT and I had this epiphany I was just doing what I 'thought' I should be doing and not what I really loved. So I ended up doing my Masters in Public Health/Maternal & Child health as a compromise to myself and my parents while I figured out what I wanted. Through that program I learned about doula work and did my doula training. The whole time I was doing photography as just a hobby and so after a few births people started asking me if I would be interested in photographing their birth or baby, and somehow it evolved into where I'm at now - working full time running my business, Simply by Suzy, and actually I just recently got hired as the Director of Photography for an organic children's clothing company called Monica + Andy.
Joyce: Have you always shoot on film, why (or why not)? What is that "thing" about film that keep you wanting to shoot film in this digital, pixel peeping photography world today?
Suzy: Not always. Traditionally I shot film but I was just doing travel photography and my own personal work. When I started my business and taking on client work I transitioned to digital because it was the new 'cool' thing I guess you could say and it seemed to be what everyone in my (baby/family photo) industry was doing. After a couple of years I realized that what I fell in love with about photography just wasn't being fulfilled in my digital work and I wanted less time in front of the computer so I switched back to film. I remember this time where I had a shoot with a family who I'd been working with for years and was like, "Hey so um, I'm trying something different, can I shoot your family on film next time?" and they said sure! So I didn't use my digital camera at all for the first time and when I got the scans back I literally was jaw dropped clapping my hands together in front of the computer like a little kid on Christmas morning ha! I switched my portfolio and business to film and it was the best decision I could have ever made. It breathed life back into my work and personal life in ways I could have never imagined. What keeps me shooting it is not only the look of it, but it also allows me to shoot in a way I just can't with digital. I really can't put my finger on why that is, because I think even if I taped up the back of my camera I would still shoot digital differently. I'm just so much more present in what I'm shooting on film and my perspective through the lens is completely different.
Joyce: I am in love with your work Susy! Specifically, your work on families and children. I love how you capture the real and authentic moments for these families in their environment. The images are truly timeless and classic! As a family and children photographer myself, I know you probably have dealt with sessions with crying babies and uncooperative subjects. How do you handling situation like this and get beautiful and happy images for your clients? What is (are) your advice (s) to those who might be struggling with nightmare sessions?
Suzy: You are so sweet, thank you! And oh gosh where do I even start with this answer.. because 99% of my sessions there is definitely a crying child at some point. I think one of the biggest game changers though in my work and my ability to give clients an enjoyable session experience was when I learned to embrace that children and babies are unpredictable little creatures that have bad days just like adults. But unlike us adults they don't have the ability to restrain those feelings or even know how to process what they're feeling sometimes. And so if they're having one of those bad days or moments, sometimes a simple break is all they need. For some introverted children this can mean having alone time to recharge while I put down my camera and hang out with the parents, for some kids it just means having a snack or comfort nursing, and for some kids on some days there really is just no point of return and I've gotten good at gauging when it's the latter. Because when that is the case, I'll tell the parents something to the effect of, "I'm not saying this is what they need but if you think they might just need to relax and start fresh, I'd be more than happy to come back another day/this weekend/tomorrow etc. and we can finish up then." I know that can sound overwhelming to photographers, the idea of shooting twice for one client, but I've accounted for this flexibility in my pricing and that flexibility and patience can be incredibly meaningful to a family. It can make the difference between a stressful photography experience and a stellar one, and I think it's resulted in a lot of repeat business and strong word of mouth. With all of that being said, when I've had travel sessions or for whatever reason there are times where it just has to work and I don't have the option of coming back on another day. In general I try to keep a very even-keel disposition and really roll with whatever kids are doing. If I notice that it's not working to do structured poses with a child, you know, you've got this killer pose and their two year old is squirming in their arms and doing those whiny grunts of frustration, I'll say to the parents "Let's just put him/her down and let them do what they want and we'll figure out something from there." It's about knowing how to let children be themselves and knowing that expression is different for each child.
Joyce: One of the stuggles photographers face is finding the balance between shooting for his/herself vision or shooting for the clients. More often than not, I see unhappy photographers shooting images that are clearly not their style. In your portfolio, I don't see that happening with you. In fact, I see YOU in every image! How do you find that balance between shooting for your vision and making clients happy?
Suzy: Ahhh the age old question, and I think the answer lies in this - when you're an artist that's running a business out of your artwork, you inevitably are asked to do things for clients you otherwise wouldn't do. And I try to remind myself often, who the heck am I to think I'm above having to do things for my job I don't love just because I'm an 'artist?' I've come to this place where it's all about perspective. If there's something a client wants that I wouldn't normally do, if it's meaningful and special to this family then that's what I'm there for, that's my job, and I'm excited about that. Also, you're right in that I only put stuff in my portfolio that I love most so for the most part, the right portfolio pulls in my ideal clients who on occasion have requests that aren't what I would do artistically and I'm okay with that. I also do a lot of personal work to balance out the paid gigs. Whether it's a personal project or simply finding a family who I really love their style or energy, a family or mom that inspires me in some way, I might ask them if I can do a shoot with them where I have complete artistic direction. And those more often than not turn into paid gigs down the road either with that family or with one of their friends they've referred me to. They also usually end up becoming my really close friends - bonus!
Joyce: Change can be a very scary thing, especially when your family's next meal is on the line. What is one advice you can give to those who want to start shooting for themselves?
Suzy: It sure is.. and it would be unfair if I didn't acknowledge that being in a position where I don't have children yet has afforded me a lot in that department. I guess I can't really say if I had a family whose meals were on the line of my decisions, would I still have taken the risks I have in my business? Though, kids or not, I really do believe that taking the biggest risks often reap the biggest rewards and a lot of things in life don't come without hard work and sacrifice. I photographed a charity event once where Jewel was performing and it was a really small crowd so she started talking very candidly in between sets. She said that before she 'made it' there was a point in time where she was living out of her car and homeless. That she was so poor trying to make it as an artist that she was literally stealing food to survive. And I think about that a lot, that it takes time and sacrifice, and taking big risks and even pushing through a lot of pain to make what you want happen. And while that doesn't have to be everyone's path, if you're there and wondering what are you doing this all for, just remember that Jewel was once homeless while trying to make her dreams a reality.
Joyce: If you have one advice you can give to those who are just starting out on film photography, what would it be and why?
Suzy: If you want it for whatever reason (personal or professional), just go for it and enjoy it. Embrace every mistake as your teacher and relish every second you're able to be in the present moment of your shooting because you're not looking at the back of your camera.
Joyce: If you can spend one day with one person (present or past), who will it be and what would you talk about?
Suzy: Okay so I have sat on this for over a week now and I just cannot decide! I know it's not just 'one person' but I've often heard successful people say, if you want to succeed and be your best self, surround yourself with positive people and those who inspire you. The last year I've spent really focusing my energy more on these kinds of people in my life and it's been just awesome. People whose marriages I admire; parenting perspectives I revere; people who live their life with passion and are positive and kind and driven - and I feel like the best version of my Self right now in this moment thanks to the constant inspiration of these people in my life.
Joyce: What are some of your favorite cameras and equipment that you can't do without on a client session? Do the setups change for personal work? If yes, can you share what are your must haves for for personal work?
Suzy: Contax 645 80mm, Nikon F5 with a wide angle lens on it is always what I'm using for both personal and professional work. I'm looking into getting something more old school to start using for personal work like a Contax T3.
Joyce: What (Whom) do you draw your inspiration from?
Suzy: If we're talking photography inspiration, I draw a lot of inspiration from Yan Palmer, Zalmy Berkowitz and John Dolan. Beyond other photographers, I'm finding that in general if you make the time to do things you love and make time for yourself - a more happy, content 'You' will make for a more inspired, creatively fulfilled artist. For example this year I set aside the whole month of February to stay in California and this refreshed my inspiration for working more than I could have ever imagined.
Joyce: If you can go back in time and do it all over again, what would you do differently and why?
Suzy: I would have gotten a good accountant FIRST instead of waiting 5 years, oh the stress I could have saved myself! Even the anxiety I've saved myself during tax season makes her worth every.single.penny. Though aside from a good accountant, I think the more general lesson I wish I learned first would be to just have all my ducks in a row first when it comes to my pricing, understanding cost of goods and how to appropriately account for that in pricing, and having a solid financial system in place all before taking on clients. I tend to just dive right into things first without thinking of the important fundamentals and while this might make for a great artist, it makes for a not so good business owner.
What are your favorite artists on your play list right now?
Beck and This American Life (do podcasts count?), and the One Part podcast with Jessica Murnane
"I wish my kids would hurry up and go to sleep so I can watch..."
(I'm substituting in fiancee for kids on this one since we don't 'have children yet) The O.C.
A quote you live by:
Suffering is an option. Happiness is a choice.
Where is the most exotic place you have ever been?
The first item on your bucket list:
So silly but.. have a family. And make a safe & loving home for them
Your favorite hobbies beside photography:
Gardening and cooking
Beer or wine?
Flip flops, sneakers or sexy stilettos?
Can I say ankle booties instead? I'm kind of obsessed with these leopard ankle booties from Free People right now, I don't think I'm ever not wearing them.
Car, Train or Airplane?
Two truths and a lie:
I worked for NASA in college. I was run over by a car when I was 2. I'm a vegetarian.