Suzanne is a social documentary/street photographer currently in New York City. She feels very strongly that, as a photographer, it is vital to photograph everything in her sphere as honestly as possible. According to her, the world is changing rapidly, and photography done in public places can serve as a critical record. I spoke with her last week about her journey, her strengths and weakness. Sit back and enjoy.
RV : Hi Suzanne, good to have you with us. I would like to start by asking you about your early interactions with photography. When did you start taking pictures and what makes you go out on the streets today to take pictures of strangers?
Stein : I started taking pictures 4 years ago. I was on a trip to Europe and suddenly started chasing strangers with my iPhone! I couldn’t figure out what had taken hold of me. I googled some stuff and found street photography. Life has never been the same since! That was June 25th 2015.
I am always motivated to seek out strange moments, classic moments….but a lot of what I do is social documentary narrative street photography and so that’s always a big motivation.
RV : What were some of the challenges you faced when you started out? Do you still face those challenges and how do you deal with them?
Stein : Main early challenges were the technical camera issues….I didn’t know how to use the camera as well as I am able to now, so I didn’t know how to use things like DOF to create images. I am a pretty concrete thinker and so that comes out in my photography….kind of straight up imagery. I never honestly really felt challenged…I was always just diving in and throwing everything I had into my images. Learning on the way. I feel that the biggest challenge now is to reach a wider audience….not on social media. In other forums which I’m focused on at this time.
RV : Social documentary is a very complex medium and one has to be very careful presenting the right story. How do you choose your subjects and stories?
Stein : I just get a feeling from some people….or a scene just grabs me. I’ll see something that hits me and, as I get close see, details emerge, things unfold, my attention is caught. Sometimes people see me and grab me! Many many times this happens…people want to be included in the mosaic. Too many people are left out of life….Street Photography for me is about democracy—including everyone even if some viewers don’t get it.
RV : In this ever changing world of street photography, please share with us what is street photography in your book?
Stein : Street Photography is truth. For me, it’s a few things: narrative, realism, honesty and independence. I don’t think there should be rules imposed and I believe the genre is wide open to interpretation. I dislike mannered, stuff and gentrified approaches and I feel that straight up realism is the most important thing that should be present in my images.
RV : Please tell us about a day in the life of Suzanne Stein.
Stein: Oh!! I’m always moving. I work out in the morning, I shoot afterward in the daytime, I eat pretty clean….I have dinner, work on pictures. As the weather gets better here in New York City I’ll be shooting a specific set of images at night after dinner….then I work out again very late at night…then work on more pictures! I have business stuff that I’m trying to pursue/keep up with. I never rest. Lately I’ve been socializing a bit but quite honestly I work at something (my son, Photography, working out) constantly. I’m always experimenting w my camera.
RV : Books or gear, what excites you more and why?
Stein : Lately gear! Because I don’t really have what I need….there are some lenses and equipment necessities that I don’t have the funds for….so I’m always very happy to acquire gear!
Books are awesome! But…. I don’t often like to sit still unless I’m working on pictures….honestly I’m not always interested in looking at photography. I go through phases. I also don’t want to be influenced. I think lately I’m into film….better inspiration.
RV : What should we expect from Suzanne in 2019-2020? What are some of the projects you are working on?
Stein : Hmmmm….I’m staying quiet. I’m hoping for something to come through, we’ll see!! As well as opportunities to show work and start moving into different audiences…I’m going back to Skid Row to continue making images….I want to do things a bit differently there…continuing in the same style but also evolving into new territory. I have no idea what the future hold! I’m always surprised….
RV : This is a slightly difficult one, according to you what are your biggest strengths and weaknesses ?
Stein : Strength….I am honest and unafraid. I make my own rules and generally have no problem working independently of other people’s protocols. I experiment and am very exacting about what I do. I’m extremely disciplined and I don’t give up. I believe strongly in an independent approach to making art and am able to resist becoming derivative in my image making.
Weakness….I get too close. Sometimes this is an issue because I want to see more of a scene. I can get lost in details and miss something major in an image or scene. I get extremely frustrated with the business of photography and the way things seem to work and this can sometimes get in my way.
RV : Who are some of the photographers who have inspired you or helped shape your vision?
Stein : Nobody! Except possibly Smith’s Minimata and Martin Parr which I had seen and remembered before I started taking pictures. I always loved old pictures….always was very interested in images of the Vietnam War (reportage), WW2, old villages in Eastern Europe….these images that I saw as a young person probably generally shaped some of my views as to what I think is important. As I got into photography, I learned of: Helen Levitt, Saul Leiter, W. Eugene Smith, Henri Huet, Martin Parr, David Turnley, Nachtwey, Salgado to name a few.
RV : Lastly, what advice would you have for someone starting out in the field of Social documentary?
Stein : My advice is to follow your own vision. Do not ever seek to emulate or copy another artist/photographer. Never say no to a wild idea….and learn to use social media wisely. Do not take it too seriously because there are too many flaws in many platforms, and to many generic images in wide circulation. Forget “likes” on social media because they are next to meaningless as a judge of artistic merit. Work diligently and as much as your situation allows. Never give up and find people you trust to look at your pictures. Don’t believe anybody’s hype. Focus on your own work and forget what other people are doing.
You can find out more about her Here
You can follow her here on her Instagram
Suzanne Stein in conversation with Rohit Vohra/ Editor APF
Find out some of the workshops coming up with Rohit Vohra & Vineet Vohra Here