Wet Plate Collodion Photographer Susan Seubert shoots for Smithsonian Magazine 101 Objects Issue

This was one of the most challenging assignments I’ve had in recent years.  I received a call from my editor at the Smithsonian Magazine asking if I would be available to shoot in Washington, D.C.  It was going to be in July, (read: hot!), and would take about a week.  The editors at the magazine were busy coordinating  seven photographers from around the United States, including Dan Winters, David Burnett and Albert Watson, to photograph a collection of objects at various Smithsonian Museums. I have been working in wet-plate collodion for about five years now, and was surprised to learn the photography department was interested in that work for an assignment. It was the first time anyone had ever commissioned work from me based on my “fine art” portfolio.

The title of the issue is called, “101 Objects That Made America.”  The segment I photographed is entitled, “America In the World,” and all the objects that were chosen have to do with America as it relates to the world. You can see the pictures online here.

The pieces I was assigned to photograph span five centuries.  The oldest “object” was a Novus Orbis map from 1532, based on tales from Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci.  It depicts the world as round, which at the time was a new idea, South America takes up most of that hemisphere and Cuba is where North America lies.  The youngest object that I was assigned gave me the most pause and I felt a bit of a chill when the curators brought it to our makeshift studio.  It is from 2001 and was donated to the Smithsonian by the New York City police. The stairwell sign from the 102nd floor of one of the twin towers that was destroyed in the terrorist attacks of September 11th was gently put on the set.  It had been found at the dump where the debris from the site had been taken in order to find any human remains or other significant evidence from that terrible day in American history.

When the issue was launched, the letter from the editor invited people to discuss the objects chosen for the special issue and to participate in a dialogue about what was included and why.  I cannot imagine the vetting process of choosing only 101 objects out of 37 million.  However, to be in such close proximity to things such as the Pocahontas engraving – the oldest piece in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection – was an extraordinary experience and one I will never forget.

The opening spread in Smithsonian Magazine for the section I illustrated, "America In the World."

The opening spread in Smithsonian Magazine for the section I illustrated, “America In the World.”

The second spread in Smithsonian Magazine where the oldest and newest objects are placed alongside a gas mask from World War I, the sign from the TV show, Mash, and a salvaged nuclear fallout shelter.

The second spread in Smithsonian Magazine where the oldest and newest objects are placed alongside a gas mask from World War I, the sign from the TV show, Mash, and a salvaged nuclear fallout shelter.

Fine Art Photography: The Digital Divide by Susan Seubert

Yet another long overdue post…

This year I was one of  24 artists/teams selected for the citywide Oregon Biennial, Portland2012 which was held earlier this year. Portland2012, the Biennial of Contemporary Art, is a major survey of work by visual artists who are defining and advancing the contemporary arts landscape in the state.  The show was presented by Disjecta and curated by Prudence F. Roberts.

My installation at Disjecta is titled, “The Digital Divide,” and consists of a series of QR codes installed in the gallery which, when scanned with a smart phone or other hand-held device, takes the viewer to videos and/or text.  The artist statement follows below.  You can view the installation on my fine art web site here.  The videos can be watched by scanning the QR codes from your computer screen, or by visiting the multimedia portion of my web site.  I would like to thank the fabulous people at Disjecta, Ms. Roberts, Marc Greenfield and all the volunteers that helped make this piece possible.  Tri-Met was a wonderful sponsor and included some stills from the videos on the sides of buses and on bus stop shelters throughout the city of Portland.

A still from, “The Digital Divide” installed on the side of a Tri-Met bus as part of Disjecta’s Portland2012, A Biennial of Contemporary Art

A still from “The Digital Divide,” an installation piece for Disjecta’s Portland2012, A Biennial of Contemporary Art.

The following is the artist statement for the piece:

To explore ideas of toxic waste, environmental impact due to rapid changes in technology, specifically communications technology, I have chosen to create a series of videos, which are accessible via QR codes using smart-phone technology. New methods of communication, (cell phones, smart phones, computers), have created forms of consumption which have had a direct correlation to the environmental impact of that consumption. Although not obvious, many natural resources are used to manufacture technological goods that we now rely on for communication. These materials are often harvested from third world nations, the most famous example being the Democratic Republic of the Congo where the thirst for Colton has fueled violent conflict. Some heavy metals are used in the manufacturing of communication technology such as cadmium, lead and arsenic. The rapid change in such things as processor speed and memory capacity has led to an enormous turnover in electronic hardware waste. (One statistic cites that the performance values of Information and Communication Technology double every 18 months.)
QR (Quick Response) codes are a type of matrix barcode, which consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. They were designed by the Japanese in the early 1990’s to track vehicles during the manufacturing process. The use of the QR code is growing as a point-of-purchase symbol, where the consumer can scan the code and be taken to a video about whatever product to which the code is connected. The codes can be used for urls, text or numeric information. The problem is that the consumer must have a smart phone, access to the Internet and the application that allows the camera to read the code. Using QR codes as a method of communication, in order to see the actual visual information it conveys, most of which could normally be seen using our eyes through traditional media, one must use a camera. Eyes will simply no longer suffice to handle the task of reading, (i.e de-coding), the image.
Semaphore signal videos installed on the Internet, transmitted to the viewer via QR codes, emphasizes the digital divide that is currently prevailing in our global culture.
Working on the assumption that most viewers of this piece will not be able to read the semaphore signals as letters, (which form a sentence relevant to each location where the video was made), and that there will also be a number of viewers who will not have the relevant technology to read the QR codes, the piece will have effectively alienated the viewer from at least one critical portion of the piece, therefore encompassing both ends of the digital divide. I chose to use the Semaphore code because it is being phased out as a means of communication. Although it is still used in certain military situations, (such as refueling ships or moving munitions at sea), it will soon be gone as a method of communication. The Semaphore Flags system is used for conveying information at a distance by means of visual signals with hand-held flags.

Fine Art and Editorial Photographer Susan Seubert Noontime Chat at the Portland Art Museum

I have been invited by the Portland Art Museum’s Photo Council to give a talk about my work as an editorial photographer and a fine art photographer.  The talk will take place at the museum in the Miller room on Wednesday, February 17th at noon and is open to the public.  There was blurb about the talk on DK Row’s blog and in today’s Oregonian Newspaper. The talk will largely revolve around the broad notion that photography is simply a device used to communicate ideas.  Those ideas can be as distinct as each individual that chooses the camera as their medium.  More to come on Wednesday…  bring your lunch and be sure to not shy away from asking questions!  This is a casual affair.

Here is the press release:

For Immediate Release

Contact:  Jim Leisy (Photography Council)
503.708.3387 / jimleisy@fbeedle.com

“I’ve Led Two Lives”
a public talk by
Susan Seubert

at the Portland Art Museum
Wednesday February 17 at Noon, in the Miller Room

PORTLAND, Ore. —Noted photographer Susan Seubert will be giving a public talk about pursuing two discrete photographic careers: one as an artist and the other as an editorial photographer.

In this talk, I will discuss the challenges and rewards of being both a fine art and editorial photographer, how I’ve kept the two careers separate, and how ultimately they’ve grown to inform and involve one another.  I will show work that spans both careers.
—Susan Seubert

Susan Seubert’s public talk is part of the Photography Council’s monthly “Brown Bag Series”, a series of informal presentations by Northwest photography luminaries, the 3rd Wednesday of every month from Noon – 1 p.m. in the Miller Room at the Portland Art Museum.
This presentation is sponsored by the Portland Art Museum’s Photography Council.

Lecture by:      Susan Seubert, fine art & editorial photographer
Date & Time:     Wednesday February 17, Noon – 1 p.m.
Location:         Miller Room in the Mark Building
Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Avenue, Portland, OR 97205
Cost:                Free to the public.  (Attendees are welcome to bring their lunch.)

About Susan Seubert
Susan Seubert was born in 1970 in Indianapolis, Indiana and is an active fine art and journalism photographer based in Portland, Oregon. Her provocative imagery has earned her critical acclaim with inclusion in the Portland Art Museum’s 1999 and 2001 Biennials and most recently in the 2009 Tacoma Art Museum Biennial. In 1999 Columbia University awarded Ms. Seubert an Alfred Eisenstaedt Award for her magazine work. Exacting in her preparation and printing, she is a master with the techniques of silver gelatin, platinum, tintype and wet plate collodion.  Since receiving her BFA in photography from the Pacific Northwest College of Art in 1992, Seubert has exhibited continuously in the United States. She was featured at Houston Center for Photography in 1997, and included in exhibit at Exit Art (New York) in 2001.  Currently, her work is represented by Froelick Gallery (Portland, OR), G. Gibson Gallery (Seattle, WA), and the Joseph Bellows Gallery (La Jolla, CA).

About the Photography Council
The Portland Art Museum Photography Council offers members behind-the-scenes access to collections, exhibitions, and curators. The council sponsors annual acquisitions for the Museum’s photography collection and brings renowned international photographers and historians to Portland for public and private events. Since its founding in 2001, the council has sponsored programs by David Byrne, Bruce Davidson, Elliott Erwitt, Abelardo Morell, Jerry Ueslmann, and many more. Dues to join the Photography Council are $100 for Members, $200 for Contributor Members, and $500 for the Advocate Member level.

About the Portland Art Museum
The seventh oldest museum in the United States and the oldest on the West Coast, the Portland Art Museum is internationally recognized for its permanent collection and ambitious special exhibitions drawn from the Museum’s holdings and the world’s finest public and private collections. The Museum’s collection of 42,000 objects, displayed in 112,000 square feet of galleries, reflects the history of art from ancient times to today. The collection is distinguished for its holdings of arts of the native peoples of North America, English silver, and the graphic arts. An active collecting institution, dedicated to preserving great art for the enrichment of future generations, the Museum devotes 90 percent of its galleries to its permanent collection. The Museum’s campus of landmark buildings, a cornerstone of Portland’s cultural district, includes the Jubitz Center for Modern and Contemporary Art, the Gilkey Center for Graphic Arts, the Schnitzer Center for Northwest Art, the Northwest Film Center, and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Center for Native American Art. With a membership of more than 22,000 households and serving more than 350,000 visitors annually, the Museum is a premier venue for education in the visual arts. For information on exhibitions and programs, call 503.226.2811 or visit portlandartmuseum.org.

Editor’s Note: For high resolution images please contact Jim Leisy at
jimleisy@fbeedle.com or 503.708.3387.

Florida - holding a baby alligator. Learned a lot about how to hold one.

photo by Chris Hornbecker

Susan Seubert at the Tacoma Art Museum

The show, “A Concise History of Northwest Art,” is currently on display at the Tacoma Art Museum in Washington state.  A series of pictures I made in 1998, “The Ten Most Popular Places to Dump a Body in the Columbia River Gorge” will be on display until May 23rd of 2010.  If you haven’t been to the TAM, I highly recommend a visit.  Not only is the collection housed in a magnificent building, designed by Antoine Predock, but there are also several other museums located close by.  Although Tacoma is generally not considered as worthy a destination as it’s big sister Seattle, I have found it a fine place to visit.  We’ve taken the train from Portland and spent the night at the impressive Hotel Murano, which is dedicated to glass art.  Not only is the train ride from Portland relaxing, once you arrive in Tacoma, you can take the free streetcar from the train station and spend the day tooling around the downtown area.

Susan Seubert's image from A Concise History of Northwest Art at the Tacoma Art Museum

Tacoma Art Museum Biennial Exhibition Talk

This Saturday, February 28th, I’ll be giving a talk about my work at the Tacoma Art Museum along with the three other photographers selected for the exhibition: Michael Kenna, Doug Keyes and Isaac Layman.  The title of the half day program is called, “Taking Pictures Through Multiple Lenses: Photography in the Biennial.”  Each of us has been asked to present a 40 minute presentation.  I am scheduled to speak at 11:40am, so if you’re in Tacoma and don’t have anything better to do, please join us!  I promise to try and make you laugh.   I’m looking forward to hearing Doug and Isaac particularly because I don’t know either of these artists personally and their work in the Biennial is impressive.  Michael Kenna is always a great speaker and is the most famous of our lot, so I’m looking forward to hearing him speak again, and interested to see what he’s been up to in Japan, besides singing karaoke, which I understand he can do in perfect Japanese.  Ohio!

Tacoma Art Museum Northwest Biennial

In a shameless attempt at self promotion, it is with great pride that I announce that my work has been accepted into the Tacoma Art Museum’s Northwest Biennial. The show is curated by Rock Hushka, the curator of Contemporary and Northwest Art at the museum and Alison de Lima Green, the curator of contemporary art and Special Projects at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. The work selected for exhibition, entitled “Nest,” is my most recent series of images. I will post some of the images here when the biennial show opens on January 31st. Yippee! In the mean time, my personal work can be viewed here or at the Froelick Gallery’s website. Thanks for visiting!