An Interview with Susan Metzger
by Ben Potter
Ben Potter: You recently moved to photography after many years as a painter. Does your long engagement with painting influence your photographic work?
Susan Metzger: I’m sure it does but not necessarily in the conscious, everyday kind of way. As an artist, I have a particular aesthetic that carries across varying mediums, but what drives the content and more formal issues such as composition, etc. also carry over.
BP: How does your sense of place direct your work?
SM: ‘Sense of Place,’ that can be tough to describe in the bigger sense of it. I have always been lucky enough to live near the coast, and that brings in lots of other meanings. The coastal landscape is also an edge, a threshold. It’s liminal – it forms a margin- and in doing so creates an actual state of ‘in-betweenness.’ The tidal zone is a threshold of land, a distinct place between high ground and water; it is in-between and what lies on the other side can be unpredictable, and dangerous, and beautiful – it can be everything. So those connotations inform my work.
SM: That’s complicated I am interested in how people make a living using the immediately local ecology. I love the idea that one’s work is dependent on natural rhythms, tides and weather, and the scarcity or plenty of other creatures – all dictated by the environment. I also was not conscious of an underlying current that was driving me in the background – that my father was an obsessive fisherman and would sometimes take me with him as a kid. His life ended in a tragic way but while I was working on my own project I sort of suddenly and unexpectedly realized I understood his obsession.
BP: You use vintage film cameras to make your negatives. These are then adjusted and printed digitally. What are your thoughts about the use of old and new technologies?
SM: This is where it gets a bit political for me. I grew up during the sixties and the Vietnam War was a dark presence in our family – my brother was there, and the rest of us would watch people like Walter Cronkite read the names of the fallen and it was somber – we’d see these incredible photographs by people like Larry Burrows and we trusted it. We trusted the information and the people delivering it. Journalism had a kind of dignity that is now lost. It’s devastating to me, really, what’s happened to media and how it’s now manipulated and the feeling that you can’t believe anything anymore. So, in that sense, it’s personally important to me that my photographs simply show what was in front of me at the time.
BP: Do you see your work as a type of antidote or example?
SM: It’s certainly an antidote for me. I only create work for myself, not thinking about how it might be received. It’s a way of working out things that you may not even be conscious of at the time. I always- absolutely always – find that by the time a body of work is completed, it tells me what has been on my mind under the surface. It ends up informing me.
BP: Anything else you would like to add?
SM: Thanks for the opportunity to show my Up River series and I hope your young students will get out and VOTE. And if they are artists, I hope they might consider the idea of making work about what is true for them. I’d like to include some notes I learned from a wonderful photographer and person named Keith Carter. These don’t only have to apply to photography:
What’s your story?
What do you want to say?
Who do you want to say it to?
How do you want it to look?
What is your relationship to the subject matter?
It’s not what you see, it’s the significance of what you’re seeing.
Make friends with uncertainty.”
00Susan Metzger is a painter and self-taught photographer living in Maine. She studied painting at the Museum School in Boston and has been the recipient of two fellowships; from the Wurltizer Foundation and the K2FF Arts in Sustainability Grant. At this time she is practicing a documentary style of analog shooting that is strongly place-based.
Ben Potter was born in 1970 and grew up in Tennessee. He majored in Art and Biology at Williams College. He received his M.F.A. in Painting and Drawing from the California College of Arts in 1998. He lives in Belfast, Maine, and is a Professor of Art at Unity College.