Interview with Susan Leurs, LICC winner in SHOOT (Photography) in the Non-Professional category, about the subjects of her photograph series: Bullying, and what the project meant to her.
What do you see as the strengths of your winning project and what does this award mean to you personally?
The strength of the series portraits is that they are made in the same technical way, also no distraction of glasses, jewelry, make-up, nor clothing. They are all in a certain state of emotion, their background is that they are either victims of bullying or are bullies. This award means a possibility to spread this series around the world. The first series contained portraits of 100 people, I am still working on the series, 170 portraits have been made, over 200 people joined the project.
What impact has winning this had for you?
It is amazing to win, and this time I also won money, that is so great as I can use the money to buy new materials like films and fluids to develop the films.
What was most important for you when planning the project and what were the biggest challenges you faced?
I set a goal for the first series to photograph 100 people, in the end I just made it.
What is your guiding principle in the work you do?
That I am allowed to tell the story my models want to tell, based on trust. Often the subject of a series is not simple, it is often about the struggles in life.
Where do you get motivation and inspiration from for your work?
When I talk to someone who has a story to tell, the images I would like to make appear in my head. Sometimes it takes a while to make them but most images work out the way I want them to be.
How/when did you discover your passion for photography?
My whole family somehow photographed my whole youth, it has always amazed me as a technique.
How do you think your own culture and environment has shaped your personal and professional creative vision?
I have the freedom to make whatever I want. I know that in other cultures certain subjects are still taboo. I feel no boundaries in what I can photograph, as long as I feel ok with it then I can do whatever I want.
Tell us about a project which has been your greatest achievement?
That is the project about Bullying, so many people wanted to enter the series, it amazed me. I still get a lot of people who want to enter the series, sometimes I don’t even know how they know me or heard about the project. I think it is amazing. I feel that it is my biggest achievement as it actually helped people in a way, to grow or to feel better or more proud. It created a bond. It also helped that schools visited the first exhibition, they actually used the project to make a difference for the kids.
Who in your field do you most admire and why?
Rineke Dijkstra is a dutch photographer who has made several series about people, she often photographs them in an way, just on the verge of not feeling comfortable, that is what makes it so good, it is pure, just the way the people are.
How do you feel photography has evolved over the past years and how do you see it evolving in the future?
Yes it did. Once you find your flow you will go very far to achieve what you want. Before the bullying project I never thought I would pick up analog photography again, working in a studio I really didn’t like. All my portraits in the series are made in studio. So technically I certainly developed as I just knew I needed this for the series. But also in terms of how to communicate with photography towards your public, it is like composing a piece of music. I have been in a educational group, like an alternative Academy for photography, this really helped a lot.
What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities in your career/industry now?
Due to COVID-19 the world of photography has changed a lot, exhibiting is really hard, so it is hard to reach your public. I really miss that. For photographers who make a living out of it, it is really difficult to find a way to make a living out of it. Hopefully that will change, for me personally I just can’t do that many shoots. Locations are closed. You can’t be in contact with more then 2 different people a day, so that makes it difficult.
How do you decide to take on certain projects?
When my gut-feeling says or screams YESSS!
What would be your dream project?
I would like to follow a transgender person in his/her process. It must be so hard to find out that you are in the wrong body and will change that. I think I would like to give more insides to the public so they won’t judge transgender people but just see the struggle in this.
What’s your creative process and what creative software do you use?
I work mostly from gut-feeling, Intuition is so important to me. When I don’t feel/see it, I can’t photograph. Sometimes I just get in the car with my model and drive. It often brings me just were I needed to be. I use Photoshop mostly.
What kind of questions do you ask before beginning a project?
Is it possible to tell this story, and do I want to tell this story. Is the person that I photograph genuine.
What advice would you give to someone starting out as a designer / artist / Photographer?
Check facts, make sure you have a signed permission of the person you photograph, and only do what YOU want to do!
What kind of culture or structure needs to exist to foster successful team collaboration?
For me that means that my model needs to be honest, genuine, be able to work together. When you are open and honest, anything can happen.
What are you working on now, what is in the pipeline for you?
I am working on a series about depression, I want to photograph several people about this subject. During COVID-19 many people got depressed, but people who have a chronic depression are often not heard in the right way. I hope the series will open up some misunderstandings and help them in a way.