The States Project: New Hampshire: Susan S. Bank
Just last summer Executive Director and Curator Paula Tognarelli at the Griffin Museum of Photography asked me if I knew Susan S. Bank. I was familiar with her photographic series Salisbury, but, we had never met, and the next thing I know I am sitting on Susan’s porch talking photography. Susan was born in New Hampshire, and has summered here her whole life. She has many wonderful stories about growing up on the coast.
Susan is an accomplished black and white film photographer, having studied with Constantine Manos, learning from his acute approach to observation and the frame. Her book Campo Adentro is captivating, bringing the mundane details of day-to-day life into view. It is poetically done, a most intimate journal of visual discovery. This work was recently featured in a solo show at the Leica Gallery in Boston, where Susan and Consta had a conversation among many photography celebrities of the Boston area.
Susan S. Bank resides in Portsmouth NH and Philadelphia PA, living her early years on an island village along coastal NH. A snapshot shooter most of her life, Bank became a serious photographer at age 60 following study with Mary Ellen Mark, Oaxaca1997 and 1998 and Constantine Manos, Havana 2000.
Known for long-term projects, she worked in Cuba during multiple visits from 1999 through 2009 and produced two monographs. Cuba: Campo Adentro, a portrait of rural life, was honored as One of the Best Books of the Year PHotoEspaña 2009 and photo-eye Books 2009. Piercing the Darkness, an unvarnished interpretation of that mythological citadel of Havana, was selected as the 2017 Lucie Foundation First Prize Non-Professional Book Category and Elizabeth Avedon Best Books of the Year 2017.
Her works are held in museum and private collections in the United States, Cuba, Mexico and Spain, and she has exhibited extensively in the United States, Cuba and Mexico.
Bank’s most recent exhibit titled Cuba: Piercing the Darkness was exhibited at the Leica Gallery, Boston, MA July –September 2018.
She prefers to work with her Leica M6, and her favorite photo books are family snapshot albums.
The Cuba: Campo Adentro project began in March 2002 as an accident. What I intended to be a weekend retreat from the hustle of Havana became an intense personal journey, returning again and again for the next 7 years to barrio Cuajaní in the Valley of Viñales, Pinar del Río Province.
Landing in Havana, that illusive, mythical citadel of contradictions and juxtapositions, one feels catapulted back in time to the 1950’s. To know Pinar del Río is to feel gently pulled back another fifty years.
I lived and worked among campesinos tobacco farmers and their families who subsisted without benefit of modern conveniences. Here was an opportunity to photograph people who I believed had never been photographed before by an extranjero/foreign photographer. Carrying a handheld Leica M6 and using natural light, I collaborated with 10 households, all related by blood ties or marriage.
Having grown up in a depressed but culturally rich New England island village in the 1940’s, I shared with the campesinos as sense of ‘tamed space’ and community life. In my imagination, the campesinos were to become my family.
Unlike American photographers Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, I had no political agenda. I did not intend to disturb life in el campo. I did, however, have to guard against drifting into a romantic vision of a way of life that on the surface appeared to be exotic and perfectly harmonious.
Rising before dawn, walking along the dark caminito, stepping over untethered oxen, waiting for that magical hour, the first flutter of light over the mountains . . . wanting to believe in the possibility of hope for that one day only . . . working from raw, simple, ordinary details. I set out to create an intimate and poetic portrait of daily life of the campesinos of barrio Cuajaní. – Susan S. Banks
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