Photographer Interview – Susan Mah – Salvadore (Mental Health/PTSD/Self Help)

Hey there friends.

It’s time for something a little different tonight.

After having created my epic Author Interviews Series (stuffed to the gills with writing tips, tricks and inspirational creative experiences), along with the Musician Interviews series (for Singer/Songwriters) and the Scriptwriting Interviews Series (for Screenwriters and playwrights), I now have yet another new series to debut to you all tonight.

Just a quick note before we get started properly (because I can never say enough how important it is). I link to a lot of other articles in my posts, so WordPress users please check your Spam folders in your Setting Menus and approve any links/pingbacks that you find from me to improve the visibility of your own blog posts, as well as mine, it’s a win win for us both 😉

So, it gives me great pleasure to announce that I now have a Photographer Interviews Series and making her debut in it tonight is the wonderfully talented photographer and author Susan Mah.

Time to get this show on the road, so let’s go find out more about the incredible work of Susan Mah and her photography book ‘Salvadore’.

 

Hi there Susan, thank you chatting with us today about the nature of your photography, along with what motivates and influences you as a photographer.

Firstly, please tell us about your book “Salvadore”, which focuses on the psychological and artistic elements documenting the aftermath of a near-death experience. Please tell us more about what drove you to create it and the interpretational messages that are inherently found in the collection.

I was driven to create the book because I used to work as a psychotherapist in the mental health field. I noticed that whenever we had a patient who was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), we had no literature to offer him/her. Oftentimes in mental health settings, generic brochures are given to clients regarding depression, anxiety, etc. that feature models posing as people suffering from various disorders. There is no literature available that shows a REAL person talking about his/her REAL-LIFE experience. I thought “Salvadore” could be just that—a real person who survived a neardeath experience sharing his story in his own words. I thought that if another person who suffered from PTSD could see the book, he/she might feel less alone, more understood, and more connected to something outside of him/herself.

Salvadore cover

Did you face any unusual or specific challenges in taking pictures for this collection that you had to come up with creative solutions for?

The challenge of the book is to try to effectively communicate the areas of Salvadore’s life that were negatively impacted by his near-death experience: his vision, motor skills, physical health, musical abilities, social skills, relationships, sense of safety, and mental health. Another challenge is to try and convey a sense of mood or emotion in each image. The goal is for the audience to have a sense of empathy.

Have you always been interested in the type of photography found in “Salvadore” or do you have other genre types of pictures that you have focused on over the course of your career?

No; when I was young, I never took photographs of people. My father was an architect, and he had a big influence on me and my photography (he was my mentor). Consequently, I mainly photographed buildings and cityscapes until I took an environmental portraiture class at Parsons in Paris back in 2011. It was at that point that I became interested in photographing people and changed my focus to portraiture, particularly environmental portraiture, wherein the person and the environment are given equal attention.

What kind of gear/equipment do you use to take your photographs?

When I first started my formal study of photography, I used a Canon Rebel that I borrowed from my cousin because I couldn’t afford my own digital camera. After I returned from my studies in Paris, my mom bought me a Canon EOS 60D. I now shoot with a Canon 5D Mark iii, which is a professional-grade camera. It’s fantastic, with a full-frame sensor, which makes a big difference in image quality. I’m extremely grateful to a couple friends of mine who helped me buy it. Overall, I’m not a “gear head” like many photographers. My father’s philosophy in life was “keep it simple,” so that’s what I try to do in my work. If I can use natural light rather than artificial light, that’s always my first choice. And I only have one lens for my Canon 5D Mark iii.

Canon_5260B009_EOS_5D_Mark_III_847546

Whose photographic work has influenced you the most in your life?

If I had to choose one photographer, I would say Diane Arbus, whom I first learned about while studying at Parsons. She enjoyed taking photos of individuals whom others would consider odd—e.g., circus performers, drag queens, the mentally disabled. Like her, I feel a connection to unique souls who are often overlooked by mainstream society. As a person whose felt like an outsider for much of my life, I can relate to these folks and taking roads less traveled. Furthermore, I like how Arbus approached her subjects—taking simple shots that aren’t overly staged and seem to keep it real.

Among all of your photographic works, which one is your personal favourite and why is it your favourite?

Difficult question! Oftentimes as a photographer, you will take a photo and feel very strongly about it right afterward. Then as time goes on, you lose those intense feelings about the image and even think: I loved this?!

However, one image of mine that I continue to love is the first image shown on my website in the “Memphis Faces” series:-

Memphis Faces Project – SUSAN MAH PHOTOGRAPHY

I was born and raised in Memphis, TN, which is a city that was, and continues to be, fraught with racism. I just love the image of this couple—the pale white wife and the dark black husband, sitting side by side in their arm chairs, like royalty. After having taken the image, what I didn’t realize until much later is that they each, unconsciously, put their arms in exactly the same position—a sign of positive body language. I also love how incredibly messy their house is, and how they have absolutely no shame about it. It’s like they have this attitude—we are here, as is, and we’re not apologizing for it. There is no attempt to keep up appearances. To me, it feels like a validation of self. They are what Memphis should be.

Memphis Faces Series

(One of the latest shots from Susan Mah’s “Memphis Faces” series…for more images, visit her website, Susan Mah Photography)

When and how were you originally inspired to become a photographer? Also do you have any formal training that you draw upon?

The first time I ever really used a camera was during the sixth grade when I took a trip to Washington, DC with my elementary school. To document my vacation with my classmates, my Dad let me borrow a tiny little camera of his, reminiscent of one used by James Bond when sneaking into top secrets places! I thoroughly enjoyed taking photos during that trip and took at least a dozen rolls of film. But when I got the prints back from the lab, they all had my finger in them! We both had a good laugh about it, but my dad didn’t give up on me. Three years later, after enrolling in a photography class in high school, he bought me a “real” camera and taught me how to shoot manually.

For a long time after high school, I simply shot as a hobbyist, mostly when traveling with my family. However, after working as a therapist for several years, I decided to change career directions and pursue my hobby more seriously. I earned a scholarship to study abroad at Parsons in Paris, then completed my photography studies at the Academy of Art in San Francisco where I earned a Master of Fine Art (MFA).

How do you personally educate yourself to take better pictures? What sort of research do you partake to improve your skills?

I educate myself to take better photographs by looking at others’ work online and attending art exhibitions in the Bay Area or when traveling. I recently viewed Dorothea Lange’s work at the Oakland Museum of CA. It’s always a joy to see the original work of photographers whom I studied in school. In addition, I regularly meet with a mentor (a former professor) and sometimes enter photography contests. The positive and negative feedback I receive from image or portfolio reviews helps me to improve my skills.

Do you use any specific editing software packages or written guides to assist you with the production of your pictures?

I use Photoshop to do post-processing of my photos. I’m certainly no expert, and the learning curve was huge for me as an older student. But now I’m able to use it as an effective editing tool after all my shoots.

Adobe_Photoshop_Elements_2018

How do you spend your free time when you are not taking pictures?

When I’m not working, I enjoy spending time with family and my dog, going out with friends, and yes!—taking photos, especially when traveling.

Tell us more about your upcoming projects. Are you working on anything specific or have plans in the pipeline?

The fine art project I’m currently working on is my Loss Project. Started in 2014, the Loss Project is a merging of psychology and photography, an artistic exploration of the human condition, presented in a series of environmental portraits with the theme of loss.

This ongoing project is meant to serve as a form of art therapy on a number of levels. For me, it is a manifestation of my own grief experiences that will, hopefully, over time be a catharsis. For subjects in the portraits, it offers a safe place to process thoughts and emotions about loss in the act of modeling and in receiving their images. For viewers, it is an opportunity to connect with their own sense of loss and grief in a way that is meaningful.

In 2016, the Loss Project found its proper home at HealGrief, a nonprofit based in LA. There, my Loss Project images related to death, along with subjects’ stories of their grief, are exhibited in an online gallery. Moreover, there is a call for entries to the public to share imagery about their own losses. In so doing, the Loss Project becomes a therapeutic intervention, so to speak, wherein anyone in the world can share their story, whether or not he or she identifies as an artist.

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(Susan Mah’s latest image for the Loss Project)

To learn more about the Loss Project or to share your work in the online gallery, please visit:-

Loss Project at healgrief.org by Susan Mah

What are the things that you wish that you knew back when you first started taking photos? Do you have any parting words for other aspiring photographers to take to heart?

When I started taking photos as a kid, it was just for fun. After having formally studied photography, I now have a very different approach: my work is rooted in a concept; I have a specific goal in mind for any fine art projects. Sometimes amateur photographers ask me how they could challenge themselves or make their work more than “just a beautiful photo.” To them, I would say: think of a concept—something you want to communicate, something you feel passionate about—and share that message through your work. Working in this way is much more challenging, but can be much more rewarding for you and for others. There is nothing wrong with beauty per se, but to me, a photograph that is merely beautiful is falling short.

And that’s a wrap! Thank you for your time Susan, I’m sure we will be spending plenty more time admiring and appreciating your work.

Bio:-

me square

Psychotherapist turned photographer, Susan earned a scholarship to study photography at L’Ecole Parsons in Paris and received a Master of Fine Art (MFA) in photography at Academy of Art University in San Francisco. In her practice, the artist’s overarching goal is to bring together her interests in clinical social work and photography.  She devotes most of her time and energy towards portraits with a special interest in environmental portraiture.

Her fine art images have been exhibited in in Memphis, TN; Honolulu, HI; San Jose, CA; San Francisco, CA; Berkeley, CA; Aptos, CA; Venice, CA; and Oakland, CA.

You can connect with Susan via the following Social Media channels:-

Facebook:- Susan Mah Photography (FB)
Facebook:- The Loss Project by Susan Mah (FB)
LinkedIn:- Susan Mah – Freelance Photographer
Website:- SUSAN MAH PHOTOGRAPHY

You can buy her book here:-

Buy “Salvadore” by Susan Mah in the UK/Europe

Buy “Salvadore” by Susan Mah in the US/Rest of the World

If you too would like to be interviewed on my blog at TooFullToWrite and you are a photographer that has released/published at least one book/collection of photographs then fill out the Contact Me form here with your details and we can arrange a future interview slot.

Still want more? Me too, when it comes to reading, I can never get enough! I interviewed Susan because she has a lot of very interesting things to say about her craft. Furthermore, her work is inspirational in many ways, as it exists to help people to overcome serious problems they have encountered in their lives. For more articles on the theme of ‘Overcome’ then check out the links below:-

1. NeuroBead – “Guidance” – where do you go from here?
2. Overcome – Run and Travel
3. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (I Have A Dream ) Speech “We Shall Overcome” – LiveFree & LoveOnPurpose
4. Simple Things – Positively Un-broken
5. Tiny Fawns – stepping onto mountain tops
6. A Scribbling Strumpet’s Garden: such curious creatures these consonants + Vowels – Pan-handling Images
7. yochet – Student Corner – Crochet Heart Keychain
8. Drops of Ink – Overcome With Remorse
9. Righteous Defenders – Embracing Life
10. Daily Haiku / Senryu : Overcome – Cactus Haiku
11. Catch-22 – Nickey Dubstep
12. Darla Dishes about clubbing – DARLA DISHES
13. Overcoming shortcomings – awesomeloopy
14. Samantha Linda – being human (3)
15. 4.1 Decades To-date – awesomeloopy
16. herstorian329 – Overcome, or ‘Magic is real y’all’
17. The 9/11 Paradox – Today Or Never
18. Branching Out – Are You Ready To Wake Up From The Matrix?
19. NeuroBead – “Tortured”
20. Overcome – Debbie Gravett
21. To Overcome by Penny Chavers – The Pen Cushion
22. Daily Prompt. Overcome – Rosevoc2’s Blog
23. How Long Does Grief Stay – huntprayerpoems
24. Hope and the Movies – Heart and Mind
25. A Poem: The Darkest Night – The Tattooed Book Geek
26. ROYAL BLOOD – Rainbow
27. Helicopters Came and Broke the World – Melinda J. Irvine
28. Magnified – the thoughts keeper
29. Get it done. – Just Be Awesome
30. mydailylife@kochi – Overcoming the hurdles of life
31. pennyforyourthotsblog – Overcome
32. This time is the last time – thereforegodamaris
33. In Remembrance – Nes Felicio Photography
34. logicaldreams – Love Letter from God: In Times of Trouble
35. Momentum of Jo – It Does Matter
36. Hearing Echoes – How I Learned to Dance in The Rain
37. TALES FROM THE MOTHERLAND – I Used To Be A Blogger
38. Life with Jess – Don’t Stop
39. 8 Rules of Life. . . – Keep On Moving
40. Obesity–Impossible to Overcome for Someone Else. Day 29 of Getting Dressed – Shelby’s Starlit Crossing
41. Exploring the World around us – Umbrella
42. A Life Retired – The will to….
43. Latest Videos Eye of Hurricane Irma reaches Florida Keys: 500,000 households without power – Groeten uit #Tienen
44. Replay: World Literacy Day Livestream – Melinda J. Irvine
45. Getting My Shit Together – Zeckrombryan
46. When the going gets tough – The Chaos Within
47. I Ask Myself…Why? – Times of Thinkers
48. Overcome and Outstand – Life Stories
49. Istanbul Food and Restaurants! – Adil Musa Official Blog
50. Mrickmyer’s Blog – First Memory
51. Simple Words – A Ray of Sunshine
52. Successful Women What? – Tangled Webs
53. What is plogging? How to plog? Show me your plog? – Adrian Video Image
54. Spark… – Image & Word
55. Fleeting Reveries – Beyond Facades
56. Living in Ellison – Alex Keller’s Last Soccer Game
57. Overcome – Quiver and Quill
58. One wish??? – Groeten uit #Tienen
59. I Fought the Ender Dragon, I Was Overcome – Survival For Minecraft
60. Lazy Dinner Tonite #7 – Vivi Foodie Diva
61. Self-overcoming: Running from one’s self – Coping through writing
62. You are worth it !! – DeepikasRamblings
63. A Diary of A Single Man: His Gift Her Acceptance – Harlem Cafe
64. sonja benskin mesher – . epiphany.
65. Hope That Shimmers – Colourfulcanvas
66. Space For Self – By Sarah
67. A Diary of A Single Man: Peach Bunny Mama – Harlem Cafe
68. Fall Seven Times Stand Up Eight – Harlem Cafe
69. Giselle Lynette: An Ordinary Woman – Harlem Cafe
70. A Diary of A Single Man: A Father’s Day After Thought – Harlem Cafe
71. Motives for Change – wee ditty
72. A Diary of A Single Man: Do You Know Me? – Harlem Cafe
73. Dead Man’s Tale – Edwin’s Journal
74. Anxiety – Leigha Robbins
75. Dream a little dream – Minxin’ It Up
76. Cloud 9 – Hail
77. Smoldering Bouldering – Words on Education–Both Outdoors and Indoors
78. Overcome – Staying the Course
79. a cooking pot and twisted tales – As It Is..personal
80. IRMA-Stay Safe – Revolving Around Life
81. Overcome – wordsareallihavesite
82. Walk with God – The Straight and Narrow
83. Overcome – The Long Game
84. helen meikle’s scribblefest – Daily prompt: Cliches become cliches because they’re all too true
85. Sascha Darlington’s Microcosm Explored – Switch #amwriting
86. Back to the beginning – Painted in words
87. Making it write – My First Thought
88. NIGHT UNLATCHED – Partnered with Christ to Overcome
89. The Hockey Mom Fit Life – And So It Begins
90. What Really Matters – Autism in Our Nest
91. Riley Central – The Space Shuttle
92. Fear. Overcome It… – Success Strategies
93. We Are Lost and We Just Don’t Know It, a poem – Sumyanna Writes
94. Overcome – Sugunag’s Blog
95. The Bridal Chamber – Short Prose
96. Over and Above – On a mission
97. Sacred Grove VI – Writer’s block
98. Argue With Yourself – Wind Kisses
99. Never say Never – Paulina Angela
100. Broken But Never Defeated – Tachispeaks
101. Alive – Tachispeaks
102. I’ll Just Sit Here Counting Daisies – Jena Pendarvis
103. Life On The Skinny Branches – Mirror, Mirror
104. Rising Above Adversity – Jupiter Vibez
105. yi-ching lin photography – unwind
106. Overcome the situation baby, you are strong! – Her Story..
107. Shady spot helps youth beat heat – Your Nibbled News – 2017 YNN
108. Hardest Lesson: How to overcome – Coffee With Vale
109. Overcoming Tragedy – America For Yemen
110. juantetcts – Daily Post
111. Telling the Truth – Considering Loss on the Eve of Our Wedding Anniversary
112. Travelling Psychologist
113. The cat who would not give up – gloggyboi
114. B*_ live – Take a Breath
115. So Much Water…So Little Time: Finding Comfort in the Adventure (photo challenge/word prompt) – Adventures of a Busy Mom
116. We Are Called… – Dream Desire Achieve
117. For Much Deliberation – Overcome {1}…
118. For Much Deliberation – Overcome {2}…
119. Overcome – The Inkwell
120. An Artist at Heart – Chronicles of a Millennial Woman (#1 Thirteenth Floor)
121. The Fearsome Project – Bespectacled Imp
122. Suggestions needed on writing an author bio – Sara Khan
123. ~251 Of 365~ – ……….365 Days………..
124. The Hockey Mom Fit Life – Irma Approaches
125. Flowing Like Milk and Honey – This too shall pass
126. Unblocked! – Elaine’s life and Acrylic paintings
127. Overcome – The Bag Lady
128. Karen Lynne Beads – Overcome
129. Flowers and Breezes – Overcome
130. CD-W, Author Flawed to Perfection
131. Propolis and Paint – I am: overcome
132. Overcoming Translating into Braille – The AAAmazing Phoenix by Alan Grace
133. Overcome – Covert Novelist
134. Charmed Chaos – Day’s Rage
135. tornin2’s Blog – The situation
136. bethlovesblue.com – Being a Hero
137. Piper’s Adventures – Overcome Through Understanding
138. Overcome – writingiswonderful
139. Get connected with your innerself when you are in pain – and the journey continues
140. Awl and Scribe – Overcome
141. Take that, life! – Life unlimited
142. A Bad Morning Doesn’t Have to Become a Bad Day – This Terrible Morning.
143. Kimberlee K. – I Completed Every Daily Fitbit Challenge for a Week & This is What Happened
144. Run little ones, run – How do you view reality
145. Two herbs – Don’t hold your breath
146. The Battle that Looked Like a Blessing – Come As You Are…
147. Overcome–Daily Prompt – Fearless
148. The day the world changed… – Mum’s the Word Blog
149. Story Time – Mummy Just Right
150. Overcome – Thrifty Girl 101
151. Come On… Try to overcome! – readexploreandenjoy
152. “Overcome.” – Expedition Overlanding Nomadic Adventures
153. Dromedary – A Unique Title For Me
154. Political Question of the week #1 – Running Right in the Left Lane
155. Struggle to Overcome – A Quiet Word
156. Hurricanes will not prevail. – Zombie Ministry
157. Waiting For The Light – Sketches By Nitesh
158. Wabbing – Everyday Delights
159. Too Young to Overcome – chicken scratch
160. Life, with Clotted Cream – Am I a traitor?
161. “You Get Back Here And Let Me Help You!” – They Once Called Her Pumpkin…
162. The House at the End of Butcher Street Part 4 – Musing I Can
163. Overwhelming Odds – This, That, and The Other
164. Overcome – SkyzCandies
165. Let the celery rot – Overcome
166. V for Victory – Writing in Any Genre
167. The clock knows no tomorrow! – wordvender
168. Fighting Lusts – Islamic Methodologies Made Easy
169. The Other Stuff – Something’s up
170. Notes to Women – Dealing With Our Enemies
171. The Cat Chronicles – Daily Feline Prompt: Meowing Overcome
172. Musings of a Random Mind – She Looked Deep Inside And Believed
173. slideaways – …a thousand suns…
174. CRYSTAL’S PHOTO-BLOGGING SITE – Fundamentals Of Blogging: Day 11 – Make A Prompt Personal: Daily Prompt- Overcome
175. Disastrous Disarray – memoriter
176. People! – This Girl’s Got Curves
177. Haus of Phantasia – The Earth Groans
178. Acrylic and oil paints together – Elaine’s life and Acrylic paintings
179. Overcoming The Need To Be Loved – Akanksha
180. Sand … Stars – Circuitry
181. Overcome – Daily Prompt – Ladyleemanila
182. The song still continued – Emovere
183. Chronicles of an Anglo Swiss – Overcoming Catastrophies
184. Thoughts on Life – Overcome
185. Firewater – The Introspection Connection
186. y – reading kawabata before
187. Narutomath96 – Climate Change
188. Overcome – tistedtales
189. Overcoming – A Christian Woman’s Diary
190. Na’ama Yehuda – Overcome
191. My Flaws – Zeckrombryan
192. Science Traveler – How a Cat Helped Nikola Tesla Discover Electric Current
193. Success Inspirers World – We will overcome
194. Dense darkness cut through by light – Bird Flight
195. Harebells Colonize An Old Industrial Wasteland – Tish Farrell
196. KO Rural Mad As Hell Blog – blind shot
197. Waiting, The Milestone that Identifies Another Piece of the Puzzle – findingenvirons
198. “Life is an Overcoming” – I’m a Writer, Yes, I Am!
199. 16 music 16 sound box kit – nerdhut – Banggood stuff Ep. 1
200. The Letter Series [1] – Just Listen to Ezimen
201. thelonerose – Bras, pjs and cleaning
202. Common Pursuit – Stuttering Stan
203. Tienduizend Belgen stempelen al minstens 20 jaar // Ten thousand Belgians have been stamping for at least 20 years – Groeten uit #Tienen
204. overcome ⋆ Obsolete Childhood
205. Restructuring Life
206. lifelessons – a blog by Judy Dykstra-Brown – After the Honeymoon
207. Soul-Mates – Smell The Coffee
208. TO: ‘The Others’ – Beauty Mirrors Beast
209. Author Scout – A Knights Greatest Strength
210. The Examined Life – Overcoming Your Fear
211. Dronstad – Memorylane
212. Remember in September – Daily Post #9 for National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – My Loud Bipolar Whispers
213. An Overwhelmed Conqueror – As I was saying…
214. The World Outside the Window – Overcome
215. Overcoming – Ashquill
216. The Pleasure of Perseverance – Jan Bill
217. Don’t turn into a Rock!
218. What to drink in Myanmar – Don’t hold your breath
219. Steps – My Degrees of Separation
220. Spice Girls Show #wannabe – H.Walker
221. Flying woes – The Musing Monkey
222. La Tour Abolie – Unexpected Rainbows
223. SERENDIPITY – SPIRIT OF INQUIRY OR DEFIANCE?
224. Overcome – Random Thoughts
225. Forgiveness – THEGIRLVERSUSWORLD
226. Rock Hard: Sharing Rooms – Redux Of Rex
227. Overcome ⋆ There’s Something About KM
228. A Three Line Short Horror Story- Chapter 18 (An Encounter) – Jajabor, The Nomad
229. Buddha’s Nirvana (Dwelling into Buddha’s Mind) – Jajabor, The Nomad
230. Should Know The Rules – emotionsoflife2016
231. Frank Prem – Preparations (Two In The Kitchen)
232. Chasing the sun through the storms to catch sight of our reflections giving to us by the moon. – Individual expressions of a naive mind.
233. Designer Sophisticate – Musical Interlude Saturday?
234. 3 Ways to Entertain Your Kids for $10 or Less in Greater Boston – Fall 2017 – robin brodrick
235. Overcome: ‘I agree – but I cannot admit it in public’ syndrome – Chronicles of an Orange-Haired Woman!
236. Overcome – All About Writing and more
237. Passion’s Pull – andsoitisborn
238. Frank Prem – meeting Nola
239. Frank Prem – the moon concedes in three parts

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2 thoughts on “Photographer Interview – Susan Mah – Salvadore (Mental Health/PTSD/Self Help)

    • TY very much for reading and for the compliment. I enjoy sharing the creative advice and endeavours of others. There are so many fascinating things in the world that should have a light shined on them 🙂

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