50-for-50 interview: Susan Carr, imaging pioneer

susan carr

Susan Carr, April 5, 1963 – September 2, 2012

While I enjoy spending time around many types of people, when I meet one particular kind of person I glom onto them instantly and for good, like a loving if slightly annoying barnacle. Susan Carr was that type of person. Indeed, she was almost a Platonic ideal of “person”: patient, hard-working, incredibly smart, equally kind, forward-thinking, with a keen sense of justice (tempered by compassion), and a fantastically dry sense of humor. I’m pretty sure that when no one was around to witness it, she would jump into one of the four phone booths that still remained on Earth back then, and change into a crime-fighting superhero. For if Susan was anything, she was a scrappy, passionate fighter. She fought to change copyright law for the benefit of independent photographers. She fought to educate those same photographers, that they might stay relevant (and solvent) in the changing media landscape. And finally, she fought a ferocious battle with pancreatic cancer, all the while somehow miraculously shepherding various projects through to conclusion. Every industry should have an advocate like Susan Carr. Every human should have a friend and mentor like Susan Carr. Although there really probably aren’t enough phone booths extant.

When did you decide to become a writer?

I didn’t. I decided to be an artist in high school and photography was my medium. I have always used writing skills in my work. I write estimates, emails, notes, artist statements and more. Today, in my job as Education Director for The American Society of Media Photographers, I write daily. I just published my first book called The Art and Business of Photographyonly 200 pages long, but it took 18 months and was a life changing (and exhausting) experience.

Who was your favorite teacher?

My high school art teacher, Tom Shafer. He introduced me to photography and made me believe in myself enough to pursue this wild idea of making art for a living. An artist himself, he walked the walk and still does.

What do you love to write about?

Don’t be shocked … I love to write about photography and art.

What has writing taught you?

Discipline. I think all artists need this, but authors need it many many times over.

How has writing made you stronger?

It is hard, therefore, it is intensely gratifying when you write something that communicates well the idea you want to express. That satisfaction feeds my confidence in my own abilities and gives me the courage to push further past my comfort zone. Writing my book was a huge leap beyond my easy button and pushing is how we hone our skills and accomplish more.

If you could go back in time and tell 10-year-old you anything, what would it be?

Pay attention to your grammar lessons because writing skills are critical no matter what job you pick later on.

What are your five favorite books, blogs or things to read?

I love books; history, biographies and fiction. I read blogs and papers, but they do not rise to life changing or pure joy to me like a good book.

  1. Anything by Withold Rybczynski – he writes on architecture and cities which I love. His biography of Frederick Olmsted, A Clearing in the Distance, is a particular favorite.
  2. Kate Atkinson –  I love her PI series that starts with Case Histories. What this woman can pack into one sentence is amazing.
  3. The Craftsman, by Richard Sennett
  4. deKooning: An American Master, by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan
  5. City of the Soul, by William Murray

Okay, I have a hard time stopping at five. I love short stories and some of my favorite writers of these gems include Alice Munro, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Stuart Dybek and James Joyce.

Susan Carr was a Chicago-based photographer  for over twenty years. Her photographs are included in corporate and private collections, most notably the Pfizer Corporation and the Museum of Contemporary Photography. A past president of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), Susan was fiercely dedicated to the advocacy and education of fellow photographers. Susan organized and managed the highly successful ASMP Strictly Business conferences, and served as Education Director at ASMP. She edited the ASMP Professional Business Practices in Photography, published by Allworth Press and The ASMP Guide to New Markets in Photography, and was the author of two books of her own, The Art and Business of Photography and Gallery of Intimate Histories: Details of American Homes, which still seeks a publisher as of this writing. [updated June 7, 2015].

Photo by Shawn G. Henry.

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