Oct 22, 2013 1
Having been exposed to the work of photographer Suzy Flood and thinking it something very special – beautiful, sublime, haunting, timeless – I found myself asking her to photograph my son Enlai.
Her photographs of young children stayed on my mind days after looking at them. I could see these children’s faces everywhere I looked. Their gazes seemed to be fixed, and collectively, it seemed as though the children were amongst a group that perhaps lived in the woods, laughing, playing, singing, running around barefoot and climbing trees. And they only stopped long enough to take a photo for Suzy. Because of this, I imagined she had some sort of magical power over them.
Of course the children she has photographed are not Children of the Woods, nor is Suzy a magician. What she is is a photographer who knows what she’s doing and, upon meeting the child, realises the image she wants. She gets a feel for the child, allows him/her to reveal themselves and is patient for that revelation. I asked Suzy if I could interview her to gain insight into her and her practice. Below is an excerpt from this interview.
Despite W. C. Fields’ advice to never work with animals or children, you have chosen to. What made you decide to start photographing children? Crazy, I know but I think that’s the draw for me. The challenge, the unpredictability and the amazing little people I discover during the process. Kids are just incredible.
Can you remember what initially made you decide to try your hand in photography? My mother had an old brownie camera and I was completely fascinated by it. Most photographers say it was the magic of the image but for me it was all about the machine, the rest came later.
Do you think having a child had an impact on your approach to photography and the subjects that you chose to photograph? Completely. If you showed me a crystal ball ten years ago (my daughter is now six) I wouldn’t have believed what I saw — me photographing children? Life is very funny.
Were you exposed to art and/or photography as a child? Yes. Mostly film and some photography, again from my mother. Lots of Italian and art house stuff.
When I first saw your photographs, I thought of Julia Margaret Cameron photographs. What or who inspires your photography? Where do I begin? August Sander and Rineke Dijkstra for their direct formal approach to portraiture. The many anonymous Victorian photographers for their romance. Robert Frank, Dorothea Lange and Sebastião Salgado for their heart and dedication. Many more but I won’t bore you.
While working for Condé Nast, Hearst, Time Inc. and The New York Times Magazine Group, did you ever run into difficult situations over creative differences? Nothing major, although I remember once I had a camera malfunction while shooting Joanne Woodward at her home. I was gutted and they couldn’t use any of it. And she was so lovely she brought me sandwiches!
Do you prefer to photograph in a studio or outdoors? Definitely outdoors. There’s something about children in nature that I find really compelling. And those grey London skies couldn’t be matched by the most expensive studio light made — although it gets a bit tricky for me when the sun comes out!
What camera(s) do you shoot with? I miss my film cameras greatly but when they stopped making the films and papers I liked I spent many hours perfecting a digital process that would meet my vision and quality standards. I now happily use a Canon 5D Mark II mostly with a beautiful 50mm 1.2 lens.
What do you require, if anything, children to bring to one of your shoots? Bring themselves and some patience, maybe a small treat to “make the magic happen”. Sometimes a prop, a toy, hat, or costume can add a little something. I generally tell parents to keep clothing simple and not too dark (no stripes please).
How much input do parents have during a shoot? It varies. Most parents are pretty hands off, which seems to work well with most kids. Sometimes I have them hold the reflector, which keeps them on the scene but busy. My best pictures happen when it’s a collaboration between me and the child. Having said that, some parents have proved incredibly helpful and artistic.
Why do you think parents would opt for you to photograph their child(ren) as opposed to a more commercial photographer? That’s hard for me to answer without embarrassing myself but some clients have said they liked the timeless quality of my pictures and could see them hanging in their homes beside ancestral photographs. I’ve also been told that they look more like something you might see in a gallery and that really appeals to some families. I don’t know, I guess they’re just different.
Suzy will have a booth at Cabbages & Frocks Market in London this Saturday, 26 October from 11am to 5pm. She is offering 20% off her session fee for all November bookings.