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Prolific Visionary: Susanne M. Swanson's Unique Sight

ART TIMES Oct 2004

Susanne Swanson-Bernard

All that surrounds us at any time is intriguing. And, travel to exotic locations to photograph nature’s beauty, foreign cultures or other sights generally unseen certainly helps photographers in their pursuit to stand out. Although Swanson enjoys travel and exploration as much as the next artist, she firmly states that it is not what she needs to create thought provoking images and capture enchanting compositions. According to Swanson, Idaho has plenty to offer for a lifetime of photographic documentation. Travel will happen as it happens.

At age 38, Swanson has been behind the camera for nearly 30 years. A simple Kodak camera given to her by her mother sparked an early passion for photography. Susanne still has that first camera and treasures it as much as the white-bordered photographs it allowed her to produce. Today she uses 2 or 3 simple SLR models and is experimenting with a digital camera, but it’s nothing fancy. She employs no light meters or expensive filters. She doesn’t believe in re-touching, although some manual manipulations interest her. This photographer uses homemade filters and other most creative methods. She has a gift for capturing resonating light, and if otherwise inspired, embracing darkness.

The newest equipment, high-tech photo software or a large bag-of-tricks do not interest Swanson. It is the journey of discovery she thrives on. “Once your eyes have learned to see, they begin to find”, and according to this unconventional artist “finding” is the reward that drives her. Each outing is not just a field trip “to get some good shots” it is a journey of self-discovery and cross-pollination between the photographer and the pallet of which she is very much a part.

Tree Bark 'Untitled'

Swanson has only recently begun to share her photographs. Her vigilant eye for hidden “treasures” that are all around her, and us, (if we just pay attention,) has earned her 7 exhibits and a cover in a mere 11 months. She declares; “you could say that I will always be a student; a student of words, a student of the world and a willing student of life and the images that I like to capture of it.” Some of Swanson’s early years were spent in Europe and she fluently speaks German and has a great interest in learning other languages.

As the single mother of an 11-year-old boy whom she announces as her best friend, Swanson has seen some ups and downs, but she has remained positive and unyielding about any obstacles in her path. Her love of children and the power of words to educate became another creative endeavor. A three time published Children’s Book Author and former Columnist for a Parenting Publication, Swanson now focuses on child advocacy and mentoring when she’s not behind the camera.

Perhaps it is the time spent with kids that reminds the artist of the simple joy of primitive creation. With a wash of colors around her and her unconventional approach to everything, Swanson photographs it all; from nature and wildlife shots to abstract, pop and expressionistic style images. That too is part of the journey. It is a path that drives Susanne to keep creating and sharing her images, but it is not about pleasing others as much as it is about pleasing her restless spirit. “If people like my work or see something new that they had not thought about before, and it pleases them, that pleases me too. But I do not take pictures to persuade others to share my vision, or to see the image the way I chose to shoot it, frame it or look at it only from the angle which I selected on any particular day. It is simply nice to make the onlooker aware of a few things that are easily missed.”

When painting with her camera is not enough, Susanne’s desire to manifest that which is on her mind takes the shape of a sketch, a painting or a few lines of original thought. The words are neatly written into small ring bound notebooks, and it is clear to see that this artist values the might of the pen. “It is all about being conscious, and I’ve been conscious lately, living in this moment!” All of these endeavors represent this photographer’s pilgrimage into the human spirit.

What sets Swanson’s photos apart is the fact that she has acknowledged that all that surrounds us is worthy of documentation. The artist is rarely caught without a ready camera. Her eyes seldom miss compositions most of us declare un-noteworthy. “How often do you stop to look at the bark of a tree? Have you ever explored the art in nature’s unique patterns? Wander a field one crisp fall morning and notice a thorn bush crowned with a glistening drop of dew”. To Swanson it is harmony. The menacing thorns that repel both man and beast are attached to wonderfully woven branches that reach toward the sun.

Drawn Bust, Elvin Maiden

“Ultimately I’m drawn to the grace of nature and of all other subject matter. My son and I venture into wilderness areas on horseback. It gives me a whole new perspective. I am keenly aware of simple refinement in the compositions I see. We are always in transition and all of life is ephemeral. Having captured a fleeting moment or discovered something very simple yet unique in my mind’s eye reminds me that there is value and worth in everything.”

Swanson’s photography has been exhibited at the Art Source Gallery and Woman of Steel Gallery in Boise, Idaho, where she resides with her son. Additionally she has been a part of some group exhibits out of State. Her work has been accepted for a future exhibit at Absolute Art Gallery in Santa Monica, California and 3 moving images taken for a War Forum have been donated to the Anti-Kriegs (Anti-War) Museum in Berlin, Germany. June 3rd 2004 marked the opening night of another group exhibit in which Swanson participated at Art Source Gallery. Swanson has a simple web page on which photos are rotated every 30-60 days. It can be found at http://www.geri.net/suz.htm.

(Eric D. Ray is an art lover from Boise, who enjoys writing about art that moves him