This body

Fragile Mind
Stillness of Mind

This land




Susan Burnstine – Insight

I first came across Susan's work in Black and White Magazine a few years ago when I was working with pinhole photography; I was immediately drawn to the unconventional look she achieved. The images looked straight out of someone’s mind as if frames of consciousness. Her work is born of emotion and instinct and her practice centres around an intuitive approach to image-making.

When did you begin to modify your own cameras and what, photographically, had you done before that time?

I began building my own cameras and lenses in 2005.
Prior, I had studied photography in a special four year program in high school, worked for a top commercial and occasion photographer in Chicago, then left to pursue a few different careers in the entertainment field for 10 years. Photography reemerged in my life in my mid-90's when I became a commercial photographer once again. Soon after, I began playing with toy cameras as a way to keep my creative juices flowing, but quickly became bored. I then started modifying toy cameras to have close ups, telephotos, etc, but that failed to engage me for that long. After trying a homemade lens on a toy camera, I was struck with the idea to build my own cameras as a means to being able to visualize and communicate my dreams on film. I should note that the reason why I began shooting with various different cameras was to try and capture my unconscious world on film. I tried every camera I could think of, but nothing looked like my dreams. Following a discussion with my father, I decided to build my own lenses and cameras as he reminded me of his personal credo, "if it doesn't work make your own".

Do you begin to pre-visualise a body of work or is serendipity and chance invited in your process?

My images in Within Shadows all come from dreams I had the night before. When I awake, I write my dream down in a journal, then I go out the same day to capture my visions from the night before on film. There's no pre-visualization involved in terms of setting up a shot. Serendipity and chance are a very large part of the process and that includes the location which I usually happen upon based on an instinct to the images which literally come about in my wanderings.

Do you favour any particular tools, in terms of cameras or materials?

I make my cameras primarily out of plastic, vintage parts, black tape, glue, random household objects, etc. The lenses are molded out of plastic, rubber and garbage bags. But if you are asking what the most important material is -- there are many, but I'm particularly fond of black photo tape.

What is it about the mainly analogue process you find so interesting to work with?

The magic of the unexpected. That is missing in the digital process for me.

Do you keep a journal or sketchbook; if so what form does it take?

Journal. Just a plain daily journal of writings that include documenting portions of my dreams from the night before.

Your work seems born of an interest sparked by past experiences, how does your creative process begin?

In many ways and it depends on which body of work we are discussing. For On Waking Dreams and Flight, the images came from metaphors or moments of recollections within dreams. For Between, the images were based on emotions I awoke with due to dreams, then reinterpreted on film. The new work is very different and is coming from an entirely different place – but I'm not ready to discuss this it length just yet since it's unfolding at present.

As far as past experiences, yes that plays a large roll in what I do. Dreams and unconscious mirror the past, present and future. I tend to work out issues occurring in my daily life via my dreams and subsequently that's what sparks my creative process.

Are you working on anything at the moment?


You seem interested in the flaws of your processes, the aberrations and soft focus, elements that traditionally have been seen as mistakes, what is it you find so interesting about these?

Flaws, aberrations, mistakes are based in purity, truth and reality whereas I view "perfection" as a lie or manipulation. Nothing is perfect in life except when we use outside means to force perfection. And the search and discovery of the truth is a big part of what my work is about... finding the truth within and outside of yourself on various different levels and consciousness.

Your subject matter seems centred around the journey, people and animals, what is it about these subjects you find worthy of investigation?

I tend to delve deeper into the questions about life, death and the unknown and people and animals reflect archetypes used in metaphors and dream analysis. The images or metaphors I photograph all come from my dreams directly. For example, I often dream of black dogs and black wolves or figures within the shadow world. That pattern often reappears in my work.

Do you shoot in a more traditional sense as a form of recreation? What subjects interest you?

There's nothing 'traditional' about how I shoot, including the technical and creative process. I shoot because I have to... almost like having to breathe. It's an essential part of how I communicate as an artist and person. I would not call it recreation as it's very hard work, but on the same token, it is a release on so many levels.

All subjects interest me, but I never dictate the imagery I shoot. My unconscious plays a big part of what is captured on film. The way I work is vastly different than a traditional photographer who conceptualizes or tries to create a story. I'm shooting from my heart and communicating precisely what's going on inside me rather than capturing what's occurring in the outside world.