Susanna Oreskovic is an award-winning photographer and visual artist. Born in Croatia, raised in Australia, she is now based in Montreal, Quebec. She accredits her strength of identity and place, in a world of confluent migrations, to her parents who bravely left their homeland for foreign shores. Her formal training in visual arts began at the University of Western Ontario, from where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, followed by a business degree in Accounting. Several years of working in the corporate sector led to disillusionment and a decision to complete a digital photography program at Dawson College. Since graduating with honours from Dawson, she has worked with modeling agencies, a Canadian national magazine and various businesses and community groups. Susanna likes to travel off the beaten path, where she finds the greatest connection with nature. The interplay of nature and society and our place within it, is a source of inspiration and fascination for her.
I interviewed Susanna on the occasion of In Between, her upcoming one-day solo photography and collage exhibition at Espace Pop in Montreal, on May 13, 2017.
In Between puts us at a crossroads between the world we construct for ourselves and the consideration we give to the natural world. The exhibition is a reminder to us all that the absence of something is as important as constant development and growth.
Songbirds marks an exciting, new direction in your work. Tell us about your process and how it is connected to the subject matter.
It’s exciting to see the result of what began as an intention to practice more drawing. Sketches led to pen drawings on paper and that led to more tactile explorations of papermaking. This focus on paper and tactile art with my background in creating photo composites found expression in collage.
With Songbirds, I use collage sourced from discarded fashion magazines, such as Vogue, to comment and juxtapose on what is natural and artificial. I use the highly stylized fashion photographs, deconstruct them into their base elements of colour, shade, patterns, and reconstitute them into another image. For the collages, I cut out sections from the models clothes, hair and skin as my “palette of paint” building up the image in tonal values and leaving visible the rough-cut edges to add to the layered effect.
Fashion often uses natural textures and is inspired by nature’s colours, seasons, as well as flora and fauna. Like many industries, fashion has an environmental impact with its’ excessive production and “fast fashion” ethic. While inspiration is a creative gift, the exploitation through cheap goods, and warping of feminine agency pulls us ever further toward unsustainable and detrimental ways of living.
To further highlight the environmental impact, I chose to focus on songbirds of Quebec listed as species at risk due to declining populations or being climate threatened with loss of habitat. For many of us, birds are our first reminder that nature is outside our doorstep. It’s closer to us than we realize.
What prompted you to photograph Montreal expressways in your series The Architecture of T ?
I photographed parts of the city, and the expressways on my daily commute. With so much news about crumbling structures, traffic delays, and frustrated drivers I was inspired and marveled at what we collectively had created. In what is a grey concrete thoroughfare I found the elevated roadways to exemplify a majesty, an achievement, an ideal, and began to question what that ideal may be.
These urban structures we navigate each day are held to a cathedral-like status and are built to serve our car culture. They hold lofty ideals, not only in that they tower over us but in their promise of a modern metropolis. Intertwining, blanketing vast areas of land, we are trapped by their sinewy ways. Commuting daily on them, taken for granted, we do not see what we have created. We have created this ‘Thing’ that both impacts detrimentally our natural world and keeps us imprisoned from it.
Do you have a different relationship to your environment and process when you photograph in an urban setting as opposed to in nature?
In looking at the urban landscape I see the human impact and wonder about the people, whose choices, values and ideals created the structure. Everything we build is based on what we collectively think and value. If we were to truly live, work and build in sustainable harmony with natural systems, our cities and society would look very different.
Walking in natural environments, I look for forms, textures. There are patterns of existence that go beyond our humanness. We are not the almighty and powerful ones. I feel honored to be in places that are the least trodden, unscathed.
Though I live in a city, I can shrug off the bureaucratic demands of life, the time induced insanity and still welcome the spring air, the bird song.
As a child were you fascinated by the camera?
I’ve always been fascinated by technology having grown up in an age that transcended black & white TV to the internet age. We didn’t have many tech gadgets growing up. Part of the reason was probably our family migrating around the globe, from Croatia, to Australia, to Canada. We did have an old 70s style tape recorder and my parents had a 1961 Exa film camera. Photography was fascinating in that it could capture a moment in time. Of my family in Croatia, we only have a handful of images and there is only one baby picture of myself. Looking at old prints I always wondered what life was like for the people within them. The fascination stems from the seemingly magical properties of a few chemicals and light that can produce an image. Today with digital photography, it brings in a whole new world of technical spells to master.
You have photographed in many spectacular locations, from Machu Picchu in Peru, to the Karst mountains of Croatia, to Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. Can you describe how the act of photographing shapes your understanding of a particular environment?
I have been fortunate to travel to many parts of the world. Each place has its unique qualities and lessons to teach. It’s like an antidote or a lens through which I filter my daily life. The mode of travel is very much self-directed except in places so protected they require hiring a guide.
Travelling to the protected islands of the Galapagos, one can see the many animals in their natural habitat as well as areas newly formed from lava flows. There is a rawness, a sense of danger and of peace. Life goes on untouched there.
New Zealand feels lush and green with vast expanses of mountains and sea. Very much in topography like our western Rockies, the difference is in the people and cultural heritage that exists there. The rich Maori culture is part of everyday life.
South Africa, another spectacular natural destination, is full of animal life on land and in the sea. Here too the cultural legacy of separation is apparent. In order to see elephants, zebras, and antelopes one must have enough “privilege” to book a tour. It was in South Africa that I felt the greatest clash between society and nature. To experience the land, we must pay for the privilege; a privilege the majority do not have. I have stories of picking up hitchhikers, having camera equipment stolen and returned. I couldn’t say why they returned it, but I like to think it was the way my partner and I related to them.
Photography is all about getting a different angle, a new viewpoint. It doesn’t begin with looking in a viewfinder. It’s what I understand of the world. So from time to time I go climb a mountain. Perhaps looking down from the mountaintops gives me a different vantage point to view what we construct and its look on the land. Some of my mountain trips include:
A trek to Machu Picchu by way of Salkantay mountain pass.
Climbing Mexico’s highest peak, El Pico de Orizaba.
Reaching summits in the Drakensburg mountains of South Africa.
A number of peaks in the Canadian Rockies.
In your book Travelling Footsteps you capture a 36-day voyage across western USA. through your photography and writing. What were some of the joys and challenges of combining your images with your words?
I was in the middle of my 365 day project. During the trip, I continued to post daily. However, each post became a story with 3 to 4 images, which soon after became Travelling Footsteps. The travel pace was hectic, staying in a different place each night. I would get up very early before the family wakes to edit and work on the day’s post. Those quiet hours allowed my mind to wander, to see the story in the image and craft the short lyrical essays. Almost a meditation, the process allowed me to view the trip differently, with some distance yet great connection.
Is there something, someone or somewhere you dream of photographing?
I’ve not considered myself a documentary photographer but rather a finder of the story or the poetry within the image. I like to place myself in different environments and locales and experience what is there. I am always mesmerized by what shows up on the image. From there I take the lived experience and infuse a poetic story to the image. In that light, my goal is to travel, change my routine and have enough variety in life so that I may see new things around every corner. And sometimes these things may be just ordinary things like grey concrete or a box of old magazines. I see another story to it.
Thank you Susanna Oreskovic.
Photography and collage by Susanna Oreskovic
One-day pop-up exhibition
Saturday May 13, 2017
Open 2:00 pm
Vernissage 5:00 – 9:00 pm
5587, ave. du Parc