I found Suzanne Clements and her work on google+ merely by accident via #lightbender. After having looked at a couple of her photos I was totally captivated by the smooth, dreamy, and subdued look. I just love how the photos appear to be distant and a bit surreal – much like a memory. If you go through her photos you will find this subtle link that brings it all together. I then decided that I needed to learn more about her work and this is when I asked her whether she should agree to be interviewed.
Please tell us about yourself.
I started my creative career as a fine artist and have added to my trade as a painter by including graphic design and most-recently photography in 2006. The camera has always been present, however for the longest time, it was just another tool for me to capture elements for my paintings.
I don’t think I was ready to embrace photography as a medium itself until 2006. I was burned out, having created over 104 finished painted works for 3 different shows my final year. I had grown impatient with paints and I was groping for a new creative outlet – something a little more immediate and less intense. Somewhere, where I could learn, make mistakes, play again, and enjoy creating again.
Almost accidentally, I sort of re-discovered the camera.
What pushes you to shoot? What do you shoot (for)?
I would have to say, I photograph, in order to explore. I guess like anyone, I go through phases in my work, and I shoot different types of work as well (portrait, product, macro, etc.) so each type of shoot is a different experience, and different exploration.
With macro, there’s a certain magic to it when you bring a small world up to eye level. And, in portrait, I enjoy capturing candid moments, when people are truly being themselves and showing the beauty, the light and fun of who they are and the moment(s) they’re having.
I think what I really live for though, is the moment when you unload the camera card onto your hard drive and watch the images fill the screen.
What is your style?
I’m not really sure. This is the sort of question, which is sometimes easier answered from an outside perspective. If I had to take a stab in the dark, I’d say my work style is like that of a found object, or memory. I like to fade the images, flood them with light, color, obscure them with blur and bokeh… so that they become a little like their own little memories. Not sharp, not fully technically perfect, but a little worn, a little soft.
When you shoot, do you go out with a plan, or do you let it happen?
I mostly let it happen. When I go out to shoot I may have a location in mind, or a technique in mind that I want to explore, but I’d say about 80% of the time, I go out, I shoot and as I’m shooting I find my muse.
It’s a little different in portrait work of course, because there most of everything is pre-determined, but still, you never know quite how a child will interact with you on any given day… one day it could be a child’s energy that you capture, another it would be their shy quiet smiles and another, their mischievous tendency for crazy adventure. When I see it, I capture it the best I can.
From your blog I learned, that you do photography (among other things) for a living. How did you decide to become a “professional” photographer? Can you tell us a bit about the challenges on the way?
Somehow, for me, it has often been word of mouth that has encouraged me to step outside my usual comforts. Bring your camera with you someplace and a friend asks if you’ll photograph their family… do work for a client and be asked if you also shoot weddings… etc. etc. I’ve been picking up new clients along the way, mostly for fun. This year I’ll be breaking out beyond word of mouth, so I’ll have to keep you posted on how that goes. I plan to try and launch a push this coming fall. So we shall see. Hopefully my marketing methods and techniques I learned as a fine artist and graphic designer will come in handy as I find my footing.
Many of your shots have this very nice subdued, desaturated look. This adds some calm to the atmosphere and everything looks very pastel-ish. In fact you have a pretty unique color signature throughout your galleries. What’s your secret to achieve consistency? How important is consistency?
Similar to cooking, I think for art and imagery, we kind of know what each of us likes. Maybe I’m as wishy washy a cook as I am a photographer, designer and painter, but, I can’t always tell you what to put into a pie, bread, or quiche in perfect measurements. I’m a pinch of this and pinch of that kind of person, but when I find the right formula for me, it becomes a little like muscle memory.
Photography and processing the images is a little like that. Each series of images seems to have it’s own specific, flavor, if you will. Sometimes the images tell me they need to be washed in quiet cyans, others need a warm enveloping golden tone. Sometimes I’ll go back to an old group of photos and re-process them in whatever flavor catches my fancy.
To help with consistency, I save my processing so I can apply it across the shoot. My favorite tool is bridge where I do my RAW processing, and lately, I’ve done very little work in Photoshop, not to say I won’t return to more heavy work in the future.
Are there any photographers/artists/role models that influence your work or inspire you?
When I was still a painter, I was very drawn to the work of Daren Holmes and Caryn Drexl – their work has a certain mood and gritty creativity that I always loved. I have to thank Alicia Bock for opening my eyes to TTV photography, which was a first bridge for me from painting to photography.
Since being on G+, however, I’ve found an amazing wealth of creativity and people who have been encouraging and open. It’s been an amazing year really. I’ve learned so much from my peers from all over the world. We share stories, insecurities and crit. It’s been incredible.
Do you have a specific goal for the development of your photography?
I want to keep learning, to keep trying new techniques and to continue to push myself to improve and explore things in new ways. I’d like to make photography a larger part of my income-producing career as well. As someone who’s self-employed and works from home, I invite the ability to get outside more, away from the computer while paying the bills at the same time. 😉
What projects are you currently working on? How do you allocate time between “private” and “commercial” projects?
The balance between commercial and personal projects is pretty specific. If it’s daytime, and “business hours” I’m on the clock and my time is 100% my client’s (barring some kind of office or personal emergency of course). After 5:00 and on the weekends I allow myself to process my images and to go out and shoot.
Right now I’m working on my new photography website (the 6th in the last 1.5 years), digging through the thousands of images I took while on vacation “Up North” and indulgently looking through lenses and equipment I dream of owning. It is truly a vicious cycle.
Is there a project you are especially proud of?
Can I change proud of to pleased with? I feel like the water study series is one I’m really happy with. It was one of those light bulb moments when I discovered a new way of looking at something I see nearly every day. Through those very narrow DOF images, almost by accident I realized that I was able to explore the very delicate and beautiful way that water moves, roils, and ebbs. Sometimes you have to turn something on its ear to really appreciate it.
Is there any specific advice that you have for us?
If you get into a creative rut, try restricting yourself severely. It sounds so counter-intuitive, but it has worked for me when I’ve needed a push. Ask yourself, how can I photograph “x” in a way that I haven’t seen someone else do? It’s a hard question to ask, but if you keep shooting and exploring whatever “x” may be for you, you may just find an entirely new perspective. And what you learn in the process can be added to your creative tool box for other shoots and other subjects.
Now let us have a look at some of your favorite shoots.
“End of the road” Who doesn’t love lady bugs?
“Baubles” Rain: transforming a common Floridian weed into something magical.
“Flutterbies (one)“ Of all the still shots I got this day, this image series was my favorite post-shoot. It captured their haunted flutter beautifully.
Untitled Botanical Study Quite simply, I enjoy how the soft textures of the flowers intermingle with the bokeh.
“Ridge (Water Study)“ What draws my eye into this one is the visual contrast between the super soft and super sharp. My eye goes immediately to the meandering line of the wave’s crest.
Untitled Water Study This scene seems so grand, but it’s probably only 3 inches of rock, seaweed, and water. What a lucky shot too, to catch the water gently bubbling, pushed over by a small inlet wave.
“Seuss’ Tower” Less “Hawaiian shirt” hibiscus and more fantastical.
Thank you very much for your time!
Suzanne Clements’ website can be found here. Also check out: