About Susan

As the daughter of a Navy man, I lived in several places as a girl, including Guantanamo Bay,Cuba.  It was here, at the age of five, that my parents gave me a Kodak Brownie and I began taking pictures.  I spent my teenage years in San Diego, California, followed by study in Switzerland, and a year on the Costa del Sol, Spain, where I began experimenting with a Pentax Spotmatic, my first “real” camera.

While working with textiles and handicrafts in Guatemala and Mexico in the 1970s, I found black and white photography to be my particular form of artistic expression.  During this time, I had the opportunity live in Mexico City and assist the noted photographer, Manual Alvarez Bravo, with printing a large platinum-palladium portfolio.  I still consider his long-term friendship and encouragement, along with the early experiences of living in places very different from my own, to have been crucial for my visual education and dedication to the medium.  My first one-person exhibition, Guatemala and Mexico, was in San Diego in 1981.

In 1982 I accompanied an anthropologist to the remote Western Province in Papua New Guinea. For three years, we lived in the traditional villages and bush camps of the sparsely-populated, pristine wetlands and forest, where the only way of getting about was by dugout canoe or on foot. This close contact with the people and environment offered a unique photographic opportunity in a region virtually unknown to outsiders.

After returning to San Diego and organizing exhibitions of my work, I realized that my affair with Papua New Guinea had only just begun. Thus I returned to the country in 1990, and the following year took the position of lecturer in photography at the University of PNG in the capital of Port Moresby. With a Papua New Guinean partner, I later formed a company that specialized in photography and small publications primarily for the new mining and petroleum industries. The fieldwork was often rough and challenging, yet almost always interesting and exciting. It also gave me the opportunity to stay in the country and pursue my personal photographic interests—to honestly and, I hope, beautifully, document daily and ritual life of as many cultural groups as possible.

For nineteen years I traveled throughout the Papua New Guinea mainland and islands by whatever means available—foot, canoe, truck, cargo boat, bush plane and helicopter.  I lived with friends and adopted “relatives” for weeks at a time, becoming deeply involved in their way of life.  This included gardening, foraging, fishing, raising children, and contributing to and receiving from brideprice payments, wealth exchanges, and mortuary feasts.  In 2008 I co-sponsored a traditional pig feast to honor my birth mother in California and a village mother, who died close the same time.
My photographs have been exhibited in private and public galleries, and museums in the United States, Papua New Guinea and Australia.  They held in museum and private collections, such as the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, and la Fundación Cultural Televisa in Mexico City.  I produced the images for The People of Lake Kutubu and Kikori: Changing Meanings of Daily Life, a major Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery publication.  My second book, A Distant Place, A Different Voice: Twenty Years in Papua New Guinea, published by Futura Press, accompanied a two-venue exhibition in San Diego in 2003.

I returned to the United States in 2009, living close to my extended family in Alabama.  For five years, I got in on the fun and photographed the Mobile Mardi Gras, the oldest in the USA.  In 2014 I settled down in Portland, Oregon, and now enjoy photographing the spectacular coast and inland landscape, followed by good food and drink, a hot shower and a soft bed—luxuries not even hinted at in the villages of Papua New Guinea. 

Although I am dedicated to exhibiting and publishing from my extensive black and white, and color archive, I will continue to travel to Latin America and Papua New Guinea to photograph, and spend time with the people who have so patiently and generously given me these photographs, and whom I dearly miss.