Susan Kae Grant
Susan Kae Grant (http://susankaegrant.com/) is an inventive and influential artist, educator, and early proponent of photographic book arts. Her innovative studio practice and distinct personal vision represent one of the mediums more sustained and recognizable contributions to fabricated photography and book art. She has conducted workshops, lectured and exhibited her work throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Spain, Australia, British Columbia, Africa and Japan. Her ongoing series, Night Journey has been exhibited at 19 venues. Public collections representing her photographs and book-works include George Eastman Museum; J. Paul Getty Museum; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Tokyo Photographic Museum; Victoria & Albert National Art Library; Center for Creative Photography; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Grant holds an MFA and BS in photography and book arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. From 1981-2017 she served as Head of Photography & Book Arts at Texas Woman’s University and was named Cornaro Professor of Visual Art Emerita in 2018. She is the recipient of numerous teaching awards from the Society of Photographic Education including, “Honored Educator (2014); Honored Educator, South Central Region (2007); “Freestyle Crystal Apple Award”, (2003 & 2005), and “The Excellence in Photographic Teaching Award” (2003) from Santa Fe Center for Photography. Books and publications featuring her work are wide ranging, from photography periodicals to textbooks to group exhibition catalogs. A notable recent title includes: The Contemporary History of the Constructed Image in Photography Since 1990. In 2017, Grant left academia to concentrate full-time on her studio practice and is on the staff of the International Center of Photography (NYC) where for 25 years has taught photographic bookmaking workshops each spring. Her work is represented by, Conduit Gallery in Dallas, TX.
LACP Interviews Susan Kae Grant
LACP asks Susan Kae Grant ten questions about her background, career in and beliefs about photography.
Los Angeles Center of Photography: What kind of photographer are you?
Susan Kae Grant : I am a fine art photographer, educator, storyteller, bookmaker, director and creator of fabricated environments. Inspired by dreams, memory and recollections. I create narratives using the shadow as metaphor. I shoot with a 4×5 view camera and digital Leaf back. When fabricating environments, I strive to design sets with a sense of mystery and ambiguity to provoke more questions than answers. When finished, I invite models into the studio and intuitively direct them through a series of gestures and poses until the narrative comes to life.
LACP: How long have you been shooting?
SKG: 38 years as an artist and before that I started making photographs with a Kodak Worlds Fair camera as a youngster in Junior High. That little camera started a whole new way of silently looking at the world around me. Instead of family pictures, the first images I made were set-ups, arranging ordinary objects, posing and directing my girlfriends into imaginary scenarios. Little did I know that years later my working methodology as an artist would be fabricating sets and people to be photographed.
LACP: Where did you get your training?
SKG: University of Wisconsin-Madison: • MFA (Photography & Book Arts) • BS in Art and Art Education (Photography Concentration)
LACP: When did you know you wanted to devote your life to photography?
SKG: As a child I learned to use my imagination to escape the un-pleasantries of childhood. It was through the art-making process that I discovered the power of connecting real world observations with the imagination. When I completed my first photography course as an undergraduate and was introduced to Anne Tucker’s book, The Woman’s Eye, I became devoted to using photography as a means of expression. I examined Tucker’s every word. Her book became my encyclopedia of women photographers as role models. Around the same time, I had the opportunity to hear Barbara Crane speak about her life as a photographer and teacher. Encouraged by her vulnerability, vision and enthusiasm, I imagined a life for myself fulfilling both roles.
LACP: Did you ever come close to giving up?
SKG: Many times over and over again. Especially when making the work and confronting rejection and self-doubt. Growing up in a small town, I felt like the kid who marched to the beat of a different drum. I was the quiet observer, taking in all of life and never saying very much. Picking up a camera changed everything. It became my tool for communication. Whenever I feel close to giving up, getting into the studio, building a set and getting my hands on the camera always dissipates the desire to give up.
LACP: Have you sacrificed anything by being a photographer?
SKG: Living a boring life in an intolerable corporate job.
LACP: What have you gained by being a photographer?
SKG: Passion and confidence. The immediacy of bringing an idea into fruition and the pleasure of living a life doing what I love. Also the luxury of spending hours at a time in the quiet contemplative space of the studio engaged in creativity, solitude and imagination.
LACP: What classes do you teach at LACP?
SKG: The Art of Photographic Book-making.
LACP: What do you love most about teaching?
SKG: Empowering students to find their voice and watching them use the tools and skills demonstrated to express themselves in the most amazing, innovative and unique ways.
LACP: What advice would you give someone who is thinking about making a career in photography?
SKG: Slow down, be quiet, listen to your heart and follow your intuition. Find out everything there is to know about your subject and look for threads of interest to develop and nurture. Explore, be curious, be brave, make work in the face of uncertainty and create networks to engage in critical dialogs about your work.