I was born in Cambridge (England), but moved around as a child and as an adult. I feel very comfortable in shifting landscapes—I love road trips, could spend weeks on a train, but hate flying. This kind of start often made friendships tricky, or at least, short-lived. I learned to be alone (had a probably overdeveloped imagination) and loved reading and visiting art galleries. I found art very exciting—still do. The first piece of art that inspired me? Too many…. but it was always about light in some way, and stillness and texture. I loved stained glass, Rembrandt, was fascinated by Bruce Nauman and Rauschenberg, and I still remember a tragic clown by Georges Roualt, which haunted me.
I remember at various times in my life having access to a camera, but it was never for anything more than recording a memory. Traveling was always my main purpose; it was really a kind of hunger. Everything else, like earning a living, was kind of an inconvenience. Someone suggested I become a photographer when I was about 30 and I bought a proper camera, and with my Nikon, I began to see the world differently. It became more about the details, I became less afraid of people, more able to interact, but I had no confidence in what I was doing. I never really showed my pictures to anyone. The idea of being a professional photographer was a dream that I never imagined could come true—until I was in New York and a friend took me to the International Center of Photography. To my amazement, I got a place to study there. My immediate reaction was to refuse, as it seemed impossible.
I have never been influenced entirely by photography, although the work of (William) Eggleston was a revelation when I first saw it: those colors, the awkward compositions, a mood that was impossible to read. I have always tended to copy paintings, hence my obsession with still life and women. The female body has been represented in various forms since the beginning of time, but it was artists like Vermeer and Breitner who interested me. Their women had interior lives that I longed to know more about it. It interested me to experiment with how I, as a woman, would photograph my own sex in a way that might be different from a man. What do I see? How does the model respond to me? My pictures are very much a collaboration. And statues, which are soft flesh made out of hard marble, seem like a miracle to me. I rather enjoy the fact that people usually can’t tell if my photographs are of statues or of real people. —Susannah Baker-Smith
All photos courtesy of Susannah Baker-Smith.