Suzanne Comer is a Philadelphia-based artist who was formally trained in oil painting and printmaking. Since 2002 she has explored photography as her primary artistic medium. She is a long-time contributor to Philadelphia Stories and recently took the time to share with us some of her experiences with the magazine over the past ten years.
1. Congratulations on your recent inclusion in the book Extraordinary Gifts: Remarkable Women in the Delaware Valley, published by PS books. Can you briefly describe your contributions to this collection?
Thank you. I felt honored to have been selected for such a wonderful book.
I often create photomontages from sections of photographs I have taken at local gardens. One of my favorites is the Morris Arboretum, which was developed from the botanical collections of Lydia Morris and her brother John.
The two photomontages I created for the book were based on photos I had taken at the arboretum. Since Lydia had a passion for the rose garden, I created one piece featuring the hand of a woman I came upon, holding some of the flowers that had fallen there. My second photomontage honors the garden as a whole, using images of its autumn glory.
2. Do you see your work as being part of a greater social narrative or do you tend to view your art as more of a personal experience?
My work is part of a greater narrative in that I focus on the beauty all around us, most importantly in nature, which is often on the brink of destruction. But my creativity is deeply personal and always reflects my inner core and perspective. While each photomontage has a personal meaning for me, I also want the viewer to form their own interpretations of what they see and create new meanings.
3. When did you first begin experimenting in the arts?
I began drawing as a small child. One of the earliest pieces I recall doing was a tiny book about a rabbit, using colored pencils. On each illustration I glued pieces of cotton for the rabbit’s tail. I have been experimenting with a variety of different art forms ever since.
4. I find it interesting that you initially came from a background in painting, but later turned to photography. What made you interested in photography?
Having worked in the commercial graphics field for many years, I had taught myself how to use Photoshop. I had always taken family snapshots and once I started experimenting with a digital camera, I saw that my photos could be combined and manipulated to create a digital art form.
I normally don’t consider a single photograph to be an end product. My photographs are materials, like oil paints, with which to create an assembled final piece. Possibilities for working in this manner are endless.
5. What is a typical starting point for one of your pieces? I.e., do you begin with an image, a story, an emotion, etc.?
I always begin with taking photographs. Then, I am either inspired to create something from a set of photos I’ve taken or perhaps a strong emotion will direct the piece. I also like the challenge of creating for juried shows, often with a specific theme.
I don’t have a preset image in my mind of how a project will look. I let it evolve. I liken it to sculptors who often describe how their image emerges from the stone. That is the same feeling I experience when I create a new piece.
6. You’ve been a long-time supporter of Philadelphia Stories. How do you believe the magazine benefits the local arts community?
I cannot say enough good things about Philadelphia Stories and its founders: Christine Weiser and Carla Spataro. They are true visionaries with brave, trailblazing instincts, who created an inspiring magazine and publishing company. I am in awe of what they have done and continue to do to support writers and artists.
I am especially thrilled with how they include visual artists in almost everything they do. The attractive art work included in the magazine draws people to it, where they are then captivated by the literary works. It is a brilliant combination. I know of no other creative venue that is so supportive of artists and writers.
7. Are you currently working on any projects?
I am currently in the photographing phase. Since I am a colorist, fall and spring are my most active shooting times. I can’t go to the art store to pick up materials, so I have to continually be aware of photographing what I will need for my process. I have some concepts I would like to explore, as well as photographs I would like to eventually use in future projects.
Like all things in life, my works change and evolve. That is the goal of an artist—as it is for any person in life—to learn from each experience, grow, and develop.