Journey Story: Susan Currie

Welcome to the Lensbaby Journey Story series. We asked photographers to write about their journey with photography and with Lensbaby, in any way they want to approach it. Each piece comes directly from an individual photographer in their own words, accompanied by their photographs. Our hope is that these journey stories will resonate with you, inspire you, and push you forward on your own path.

What is your Lensbaby journey story, Susan?

I spent the first chapter of my creative path very much seeking certainty.  During those years, keeping current with the technical aspects of making photographs and striving for precision consumed much of my time and attention.  I enjoyed some success along that way, but always sensed within my heart that there were other pictures that needed expressing.  The Zen monk and teacher Shunryu Suzuki is credited with coining the concept of “don’t know mind”, sometimes referred to as “beginner’s mind”.  It instructs of the freedom and the wisdom that is possible in emptying the mind of what we are certain of and allowing ourselves to want to understand anew.  It’s an approach to living which was introduced to me through my twenty-year practice of yoga and which, in recent years, has rather naturally spilled over into my practice as an artist and brought much broader margins to my work.  

I purchased my first Lensbaby product, a Spark, back in 2015. I was immediately struck by its ease of use, unpredictable results and the joy that crept back into my shooting. In swapping it out for my customary lenses, there was a letting go and (with that) a heightened expansion into the subject at hand.  Photographs of a newfound poetic nature began to flow through my camera… pictures that finally felt like me.

Whereas much of my early career in photography had been fairly limited to capturing portraits, I soon began to pause at forgotten fields, cast objects and the subtleties in the common. It was such an exhale for me personally to finally comprehend what the beloved photography curator Hugh Edwards once professed, “There are no symbols, no cliches, to distort the beauty of simple things simply seen.” I found myself sitting with these (often imperfect) images I would make in ways which I had not with any previous work.  They for me had mystic qualities and in some ways a bit more to say?

From that point, I became fairly exclusive with my growing collection of Lensbaby lenses and began to use my photographs as writing prompts for poetic or free verse.  During this time, I relaxed my efforts at commissioning portrait work and pursuing gallery showings. Instead, I shifted my attention toward sharing my new work in editorial settings.  Much to my surprise, some of these blends of words and images began to attract the attention of editors.  Occasionally, my work began to be published here and there.  This was not something I ever would have or could have predicted back in the days of lugging around my Lowepro, weighted down with a host of gear.

I one hundred percent credit my pivot toward intellectual humility as that inflection moment which awakened my “beginner’s mind” and thus my true brushstroke as an artist.  In 2016, Once Divided, my first collection of photographic images and poetic verse was published by an independent publisher (Shanti Arts) in Brunswick, Maine.  For its pages, my editor selected several images captured with my Lensbaby Spark.  

Over time, I’ve since been invited to teach my signature creative process, using images as writing prompts, at Maine Media, FOTOfusion, The Griffin Museum of Photography, The Palm Beach Photographic Center and beyond.  I’m humbled by the poems these edits to my creative process have sparked.  When teaching, I often begin by sharing my journey.  I mention my Lensbaby lenses and how instrumental they have been in my epiphany. In doing so, one of the things I accent is the magic that’s possible in releasing the certainty of it all. I also emphasize that relaxing some of the technical aspects of composing has nothing to do with cutting corners or taking shortcuts. Effort remains at the forefront. Rather, it’s about where the energy gets allocated when we make pictures or poems… or paintings.  And, my personal experience has been that in swapping some attention away from precise f-stops and shutter speeds and just being really present and at ease with person, place and thing. I’ve more authentically connected with my truth as an artist.

In December of this past year, my new book, Gracenotes, was published — again by Shanti Arts and again featuring many images captured with my Lensbaby lenses. My new book continues my practice of using a fusion of words and images to illuminate the quiet pulses of beauty upon which I stumble. I’ve termed these findings “gracenotes”, and I invite readers to use the journaling pages sprinkled throughout my book to record their own. This month, one of my images will be featured on the cover (in both print and online) of the winter edition of The Tishman Review.  It’s a “gracenote” that was truly just my luck as I made my way through a winter storm beginning to stir through an empty New England farm on an early Tuesday morning in February. I planted myself there with no expectations, in the ghosted landscape as the snow began its swirl. Into the mystery I roamed.  Simply, seeing.

To learn more, check out Susan’s website, FacebookInstagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.

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