May 23, 2011

Interview: Susannah Conway

Each of my friends has gifted me something in one form or another, and by gifts I clearly am not speaking of boxes wrapped in ribbons and bows.  What I mean is that when I think back and reflect on how and why we connected, I can see where our paths began to cross and the game changing (or gift exchanging) event that would transform me (and our friendship) for the better.

I had friendly chats with Susannah Conway over the years through blogging before finally meeting her at an art retreat.*  One conversation we had was centered around her e-course Unravelling, which I had still not had the opportunity to enroll in (the classes fill up quickly).  A few weeks had passed before the next enrollment opened up and I made sure to be at my computer to secure a spot for the Winter session.  I had no idea what awaited me, but it turned out to be one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.

Today, I am happy to share with you my conversation with Photographer, Writer, creator of the Unravelling e-courses, and dear friend:

- When did you begin to develop an interest in photography?  Take me back to those first years and if you could, tell me about the paths you explored to further educate yourself on the subject.

I first fell in love with photography at art college in 1992. I was doing an arts foundation course to figure out where my talents lay, and though I can’t remember what I shot 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 went on to study 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.
I left college at 23 and back then (1995) the photography I wanted to do didn't seem to have a place in the world yet. I didn't want to be an editorial photographer, which is where most of my peers were headed, and I couldn't see how I could make a living as a fine art photographer.  As I didn't have the confidence to pursue my photography dreams I got a regular job for a couple of years before going back to university to do a journalism degree. I continued to take photographs, but my journalism career was where most of my energy was focussed.
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. I bought a Canon DSLR and taught myself how to use Photoshop…. And it wasn’t long before I found my way back to film photography, my first love. 
Photo by:  Susannah Conway
- Working with film, I would imagine that you had to slow down and take your time to frame your shot and adjust your settings.  Was there a point when you started feeling more confident in 
yourself as a photographer and did you begin to see your own unique style emerge in your work?

Being older has made such a difference to my artistic confidence — when I was in my twenties I was very unsure of myself, and that was reflected in my photography; I knew I had a good eye, I just didn’t feel ready to share it with the world. Now here at the end of my thirties I feel I have the freedom to express myself without so much second-guessing. In my two roles as a photographer and also a writer I have always felt more confident as a photographer — I think the way I see the world is translated strongly into images and I know it won’t go away; writing, on the other hand, is more traumatic!

Photo by: Susannah Conway

- What was your reaction to the introduction of the digital camera?  How did it feel using one for the first time?  Have your views changed since then?

I think digital cameras are great — I think ALL cameras are great! I’m a photography lover, and appreciate all forms of the art. Personally I prefer shooting with film, but I also get a lot of joy from just snapping away with my iPhone. I haven’t used my DSLR for any artistic purposes since I transitioned back to film, but there’s no way I’d get rid of it — I have over 40 cameras and all of them are precious to me.

Photo by: Susannah Conway

- OK, let's talk Polaroid!  When did you first start shooting with a Polaroid?  What was it about this camera that had you at hello?

Oh my goodness, where to start?! I’ve just written a whole book about Polaroid photography with two other fanatics — Polaroid is our religion ;) 
It was the qualities of the film that dazzled me first, more than the cameras themselves. I found a old 600 camera in a street market for a pound and bought a pack of film to test it out. My first shots were taken at the beach, and that was it — the dreamy creaminess of the film took my breath away. After that I sought out an SX-70 on eBay and the rest, as they say, is history. The combination of the film and the camera translates my eye better than any other camera I have, even my Hasselblad (in some photography circles that admission would be considered blasphemy).

Photo by: Susannah Conway

- You've shared candidly on your blog how photography played a big part in your healing process after suffering the unexpected loss of your partner in 2005.  Your practice gave you the opportunity to see the world and yourself with new eyes.  Today, with your Unravelling courses, you give women the guidance and encouragement to learn more about themselves through photography and writing.  What has this journey been like for you?

Mind-blowing. Humbling. Healing. Transformational. I’m six years away from the blast and so grateful to have come as far as I have. What makes Unravelling even more special to me is the fact that I found a way to share everything I learned as I healed through bereavement and into a new way of living. It makes everything that happens feel like it was for a reason —-that has really helped me move forward and truly find some peace.

-I do know the reason Susannah came into my life: she shared with me the gifts and the tools to Unravel myself ~ and for that I am forever changed and truly grateful.  Thank you Susannah ... simply stated:  you are a gift!

Susannah Conway is a photographer, writer and the creator of the Unravelling e-courses. A Polaroid addict and very proud aunt, she is currently editing her first book, ready for publication in spring 2012. You can read more about her shenanigans on her blog at and connect with her on Twitter.

Choosing from her collection of cameras must be hard!  She loves shooting with her Polaroid sx-70, Hasselblad 500 c/m, and her iPhone.


Karen D said...

Great Interview.. thanks to both of you for being who you are and sharing your gifts with the world.


Bella Cirovic said...

** I straight up forgot to mention that Susannah & I met at the fabulous -
Squam Art Workshops!

Gill said...

She is a true photographer. I love her work! Lovely interview with Susannah, thank you Bella.

Susannah Conway said...

aw, thank you ladies! and thank you sweet Bella for inviting me to be here -- it's an honour :) xoxo