Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Conversation with Suzanne Revy

Suzanne Revy's work drew my attention when I received a notice about an exhibition of her work at the Camera Club of NY last Fall. While looking through her images, I think of what attracted me to photography in the beginning- capturing good light, moments to mark and enjoy, and the thrill of images appearing on my prints in the developer tray. Her project, Small Wonders, reminds me of summer vacations spent on a lake, diving of the front dock, laying on a rock to gather warmth, and little hands finding treasure in the every day. There is a refreshing and genuine approach to Suzanne's vision.

Spout, 2007 © Suzanne Revy

Nymphoto: Tell us a little about yourself.

Suzanne Revy: I was born and, for the most part, grew up in Los Angeles, California. I spent two years in my early teens, and countless summers in Switzerland as well. My entire adult life, however, has been spent up and down the east coast. I moved to Brooklyn when I was eighteen to study photography at Pratt Institute. I studied with Phil Perkis, Ann Mandelbaum, Judy Linn, Bill Gedney, and Chris Osinski among others. A year or two out of college, as I struggled with “what to do”, I meandered down to the Washington, DC where I found a position at a small photo agency. Eventually, this led to a photo editing position at U.S.News & World Report magazine, and I was there for about eight years. A couple of years after getting married, my husband was offered a job in Massachusetts, so we took the plunge and moved. I worked for a time editing pictures at Yankee magazine while their regular picture editor took a leave of absence, but when that job ended, I was feeling restless with magazine work. I was unsure about the direction I would take. We were struggling with fertility issues so I decided to take a year off to figure it all out. Happily during that time my oldest son arrived, and two years later we had our second son.

Baby Blanket, 2007 © Suzanne Revy

NP: How did you discover photography?

SR: My dad had always been an avid photographer. Mostly snaps of us; he always had that Nikon F at all our events. I think my mom still has that camera!

Mermaid, 2007 © Suzanne Revy

My mother is an artist, and had a studio at our house. At some point, perhaps when I was in 10th or 11th grade, she took a photography class, and built a darkroom in a small closet of her studio. I was in there more than she, especially when I was able to take a course in high school. I went to a very academic girls school, and because I had spent a couple years away in Switzerland, I was behind on my course work for school, so I was unable to take very many or the elective art courses beyond the introductory requirement. Oddly enough, I never felt naturally or instinctively artistic as a child. I was always amazed at those whose drawings and paintings seemed to pour forth from their fingers with little or no effort. To this day, however, it irks me that I had so few art classes in high school. I may have been able to find that voice a little sooner with more artistic direction.

When at last, I took a “mini course” in photography as an after school activity, I took to it immediately. From there, I pursued it in college, and discovered that, in fact, one can learn to draw. I consider it an important asset for photographers; it really hones your observational skills.

Backyard Toad, 2007 © Suzanne Revy

NP: Where do you find inspiration?

SR: For my own pictures, quite simply, I find inspiration in the people and places of that are important in my life.

Additionally, I take a lot of inspiration from photographers who have really looked at their subjects in depth, and created a varied yet consistent body of work; early pioneers Gertrude Käsebier, Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, to mid-century artists such as Helen Levitt and Ralph Eugene Meatyard. I’m also influenced and inspired by more recent artists such as Andrea Modica, Larry Towell, and Chris Killip whose work I only recently discovered, to name a few.

In addition to photography, there are amazing things to be found in the history of art, and I never miss an opportunity to go to museums. I’m drawn to the paintings of Caravaggio, Vermeer, Singer-Sargeant, Homer, Edward Hopper, and several abstract expressionists… Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. Oh… and I love the paintings and sketches of Jean Francois Millet.

Running in Corn, 2008 © Suzanne Revy

I live a little off the beaten path in a quaint and charming classic New England town. Living and working so far a field of a thriving art community can be difficult, but I have found a lot of inspiration in work I’ve seen on blogs, and on one or two Internet forums. I’m fortunate to have met regularly with another photographer, Ellen Rennard, for coffee over the past two years, and we have pushed each other to do work with greater depth than I might have done on my own. Grassroots community artistic groups… even a group of just two, can be a powerful motivator.

Stretched, 2008 © Suzanne Revy

There are times, however, when I step away from my influences. It can be productive to flounder and work quite alone without a lot of outside “noise” if you will. It’s important to stay true to who you are as an artist, and it can be easier to achieve when working quietly and independently.

Ghosts, 2004 © Suzanne Revy

NP: How did this project come about?

SR: Intuitively. At the beginning, it wasn’t a project as such. As any new mother would, I was simply interested in making some naked baby pictures. I started out shooting a lot of XP2 that I sent to a lab. I became frustrated with the quality of the prints. Eventually, I built a darkroom because I wanted to have beautiful gelatin silver prints to hang on the wall.

Evening Swim, 2008 © Suzanne Revy

As my printing skills came back from their long dormancy, I started to make pictures with a deeper commitment. Not only did I want to make family snapshots, but also I began to explore the world my children occupy that is quite separate from that of the adults with photographs. Memories of my own imaginative places began to resurface as I watched my children play. I wanted to record and to make pictures that were about more than just my children, but that had a feeling and a look that connects to many childhoods.

Swim Lesson, 2007 © Suzanne Revy

NP: What's next?

SR: It’s in the embryonic stage at this point, but I have begun work on a portrait project. Again, I have made a few pictures here and there, and they are starting to feel like a body of work, so I’m beginning to make a deeper commitment to it. I may explore alternative printing processes with this project, but it’s more personal and less universal than the Small Wonders portfolio. I expect the prints to be quite small, and I envision making a series of hand bound books to house the prints. Or… not! We’ll see how the work feels.

Steady Ahead, 2007 © Suzanne Revy

Thank you Suzanne. You can follow Suzanne's thoughts on her work, the images that influence her, and the everyday of being photographer and mother through her blog A Grain of Sand. Her website is

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