April 25, 2024

Sarah Rhymes With Clara

Susan Paulsen

Katonah, NY

Interview by Mary MacGill
Photography by Susan Paulsen


Photograph by Em McCann Zauder.

MM: Who is Sarah?

SP: Sarah is a friend’s daughter in law. Our families were spending time together on Block Island when we met. At the time, Sarah was doing her graduate work in medicine. She is now an emergency room trauma doctor and mother of two adorable boys.
MM: Who is Clara?

SP: Clara was my grandmother on my father’s side. Because of some unfortunate circumstances in my family's life, I spent quite a bit of time with her. We lovingly called her, “Clara Mungama”.


MM: What are your two favorite photographs from Sarah Rhymes with Clara?

SP: I guess that I am partial to the reclining nude of Sarah in the front of the book, and the portrait of Sarah behind the screen door. The portrait of Sarah in the yellow chair and the picture of the woman in the striped dress holding the baseball glove are also favorites.

MM: What attracts you to a muse or how would you describe your muses?

SP: There is a strong feeling that I have when I first see someone who might be a muse. It’s a compassionate connection; I am usually drawn to a person's quiet inner quality. I see their totally raw and natural beauty; I see and feel a calm, confident, modest soul. They are not professional models, they surpass ordinary, they are transcendent.


MM: What does the role of “place” play in your work?

SP: “Place” and “home” are interchangeable for me. They’re extremely important as I need that connection to express what I want to be felt in my photographs. Like most people, my places, such as where I am from, supply me with moments that still take me back to important order, smells, and moments. They can be formal or informal domesticities, beautiful, troubled or confused moments that are within me and speak to me in my process. This, hopefully, allows me to convey a sense of “place” and the building blocks of who I am.

MM: Family life seems to be a subject of the book. How does photographing your family feel? Does the process produce any revelations?
SP: I am cautious about taking pictures of my family or using them as subjects. The pictures must be completely candid in order to capture the exact expression I am looking for. I must capture them wholly in their primitive state, aware of my camera, engrossed only in the moment at hand. It takes time and patience to photograph family and work only when we are relaxed enough to get into this zone. Cameras don’t lie; the “decisive moment” is crucial to the believability of the photograph.


MM: You were trained as a painter. How is the practice of photography related?

SP: I was a bad painter in college. I could draw and easily render a subject correctly and quite enjoyed painting detailed still lifes. My paintings however, really lacked any emotional quality. When I began to photograph, I realized that I could capture a spontaneity, a moment, a mood with so much more authenticity; I could translate the feelings I was feeling in my photographs. And, there was fog!!! Praise the Lord - immediate mood! I began with black & white film and as time moved on, I began to use color. In this way, I completed a circle back to painting, playing with the colors I love, the light I love, using the immediacy of the camera to capture what I was feeling. My pictures finally whispered a feeling, an emotion, and, for me, had an energy to them. I was painting again, but this time, with my camera.
MM: Are there specific times that you try to photograph? Or is it more spontaneous?

SP: Both; I plan/schedule shoots for sure and within that plan I am open to any spontaneous moments that take me in the direction I am feeling. Too, I certainly keep my iPhone with me for all the other instances that I see something which might be worthy of recording.


MM: Your sensibilities as an artist have influenced your daughter’s expression in a lot of ways. Has motherhood influenced your artistic process?
SP: Motherhood has given me a certain clarity on absolutely everything! As I continue on this life long journey to better understand myself, it’s not only my experiences that guide me, but also how my husband and children influence and inspire me. Their ways of being, their interpretations of life, and their developed styles have helped to refine my ideas for sure.

MM: Which artists do you admire most?
SP: Many artists: Kiki Smith, June Leaf, Paolo Roversi, Joseph Koudelka, Robert Frank, Francesco Clemente, Emmet Gowin, Harry Callahan, Andre Kertesz, Richard Learoyd, Lucien Freud, William Wegman, Nancy Rexroth and certainly many of the Dutch painters.
MM: What are you working on now?

SP: Ahhhh, good question. I am still photographing, but not spending time editing so much; I am in a stitching space right now.


Susan Paulsen

Susan’s photographs contain visions of ordinary objects made preternaturally interesting and infused with charm. With a quiet palette and subtly blurred lens, her work is painterly and dream-like, evoking a poetic vision of the seemingly banal. Susan’s subjects — children playing scrabble, freshly cut roses, dogs heading home, a soft nude — are rooted in the everyday experience of family, heritage, and place.

Susan Paulsen - Wilmot
Susan Paulsen - Wilmot
Susan Paulsen - Wilmot
Susan Paulsen - Wilmot
Susan Paulsen - Wilmot
Susan Paulsen - Wilmot
Susan Paulsen - Wilmot
Susan Paulsen - Wilmot

Susan Paulsen - Wilmot

Susan Paulsen - Sarah Rhymes with Clara
Susan Paulsen - Sarah Rhymes with Clara
Susan Paulsen - Sarah Rhymes with Clara
Susan Paulsen - Sarah Rhymes with Clara
Susan Paulsen - Sarah Rhymes with Clara
Susan Paulsen - Sarah Rhymes with Clara
Susan Paulsen - Sarah Rhymes with Clara
Susan Paulsen - Sarah Rhymes with Clara

Susan Paulsen - Sarah Rhymes with Clara


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