Susie Jenkins is an Arundel-based photographer who views the world through a lens from a different perspective. Seeking out tiny details to capture on film, she transforms these into abstracted works of art. Nicholas Toovey tells us more
At the age of eight, Susie was given a second-hand box Brownie and after a trip to Bruges returned with numerous pictures of water, a subject that has never failed to inspire her. Her desire to go to art school was stymied by her parents, who felt a different path would be more beneficial. This spurred Susie on to attend evening classes in photography, increasing her desire to create beautiful photographs. She was given a Nikon F2 from a friend after a holiday in the South of France when he saw how often she was using her point and click and how much she enjoyed it. Whilst working at Sussex University she fondly remembers the marvellous dean who allowed her to use the quieter summer weeks to take photographs and develop them using the university’s dark rooms. She describes these as important moments in her journey to becoming a photographer.
‘Aurora’ is a typical example of Susie’s work. It asks the viewer to decide what they see emerging from the photograph. Different interpretations are always suggested, for some it is a car driving down a hill-side at night, for others the beam from a lighthouse beneath the northern lights. Most people however, are surprised when they are informed that it is in reality a detail of the bottom of a boat magnified to abstraction. Tiny close-ups become vast open landscapes, planets, lunascapes or nonrepresentational vistas. Boats have been the mainstay of Susie’s artistic output for the last 12 years, but are often interspersed with reflections in water, clouds, flowers and watery landscapes.
With an increasing number of people owning digital SLR cameras, many professional photographers hear ‘I could do that’ from onlookers, whilst many amateur photographers can capture a beautiful image, this is often down to luck rather than judgment, and increasingly with the help of computer image enhancement. As a photographer, Susie started in a pre-digital age with wet film. This background dictates the way she works, adopting a ‘get it right first time’ attitude. The only difference she has found since purchasing a digital camera three years ago is that her studio is now her kitchen table. Susie avoids the lures of computer editing, as she believes that you cannot take a photograph without composing it in the mind first, looking through the lens you have to see the picture, otherwise it becomes a snapshot. Susie says patience is also important; on a trip to Guatemala she recalls standing in front of a beautiful doorway for half an hour waiting for clouds to disperse and the light to catch the door in the right way before finally taking the photograph.
Susie is co-founder of the Art for Life project with her daughter-in-law Beatriz Huezo. The project intends to help small communities in El Salvador after the country was stricken by two devastating earthquakes in 2001. El Salvador has been haunted by natural disasters, war and by the injustice of social inequality. Art for Life’s first success was to build twenty-five new homes in one of the worst hit areas, without the project a small village would have received no aid. Art for Life has continued with securing the land for and the building of a new school. The mission is very much ongoing with attention currently investigating other needs in the country.
Susie has always lived in Sussex. Despite ‘escaping’ the county on a number of occasions, she always returns to the place which she describes as the ‘hidden secret of the world’. Does Sussex inspire her? Of course, the streams, reflections and clouds all influence her work. In fact, Susie admits she started taking photographs because of her stimulating surroundings, working at the Arun Yacht Club, Littlehampton, inspired her to see boats in a totally different light. Having lived in Arundel for the last twenty-six years, Susie has always been involved with the Arundel Gallery Trail, both as an exhibitor and organiser. This year is no exception as Susie will be showing her works at 1 Tower House, London Road, with fellow artist Jan Irvine. The trail runs from the 20th to 29th August and showcases the work of over 150 artists at numerous venues across Arundel. All Susie’s work is produced in a maximum limited edition of 25, although many images are limited to just 10 copies.
With her inimitable vision Susie creates engaging and beautiful worlds from reflections and minutiae, reinforcing photography as a fine art. For more information visit www.susiejenkins.co.uk
Nicholas’ article was originally published in Sussex Life magazine in August 2011.