Susan Simone : docu-Art Photography

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I call the work that I do Doc-u-Art. In each work that I create there is a documentary story that binds the elements of a visual collection. The story may be obvious and clearly tied to a social issue, or it may be more subtle, my reaction to an event or a place that I have witnessed. In this sense, the work is like a clue. The visual elements are the pieces of a story. While I can write down the story or talk to you about the issues, I am also counting on the power of the juxtaposition of story elements to generate a response in the people who look at my work, whether or not they have talked to me, lined up the facts, or researched and analyzed the problem.

My first study was Lives of Cuban Women, a project completed with the support of the Federacion de Mujeres Cubanas (FMC – Federation of Cuban Women) in 1990-91. After moving to North Carolina in 1992, I became involved in the movement in support of the Housekeepers’ Association at UNC- Chapel Hill. I worked with audio artist Jim Lee to create a sound and visual installation, we are all housekeepers, that traced the struggle against racism by African American workers at UNC over the last century. This show was supported by grants from the NC Council for the Humanities, The Puffin Foundation, and Alternate ROOTS. we are all housekeepers was on exhibition statewide from 1997–1999. This project received the Kathryn H. Wallace Award for Artists in Community Service from the Triangle Community Foundation.Building on this work, I completed a second community study in 1998, Northside Community: An African-American Neighborhood History, with the support of the Fund for Southern Communities and the North Carolina Council for the Humanities.

In 1999, I was awarded an NC Artist Fellowship by the Arts Council of North Carolina which allowed me to complete Fotos Del Pueblo, a study of the emerging Hispanic community in North Carolina. This was my first project working in PhotoShop. This allowed me to make a smoother transition as I blended different images to tell a story. The subject of the work also took me to new venues included restaurants and cultural centers. In 1999 I was also hired by Habitat for Humanity of Orange County, N.C., to create an educational exhibition of photographs and text documenting Celebration 2000, a one year project that involved the building of an 11 home sub-division for African-American and Hispanic low-income families.

In 2000 my husband was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to work in Kathmandu, Nepal. This gave me the opportunity to live and photograph in a new community. In Kathmandu, I developed a collaborative project with Megh Raj Manjul, a Nepali poet. From the age of 15 when he won his first poetry prize (a coveted writing notebook, a luxury in the rural village of Bhojpur where he grew up), Manjul has been an important voice in Nepali poetry and an active member of the Progressive Writers’ Group and PEN. Upon my return I received an an Emerging Artist Grant from the Durham Arts Council for the completion of Tibet and Nepal: The People of Shangri-La, an exhibit of photographic compositions accompanied by poems written by Manjul in response to the images.

In 2005 I began the project, memoryscapes, compositions based on slides, photographs and digital images from my travel to different parts of the world. The objective of this work is to explore the after-images of my photography and my own memory, to see again, how these places compose themselves for me as recollection. Each image tells a story of witness. In this sense it is a continuation of the exploration of the form I call Doc-u-Art; an effort to express social issues in a creative format, to use the tools of documentation in a less mimetic mix.

Images from the memoryscapes project are currently on tour in North Carolina through the Department of Cultural Resources as part of the exhibition Telling Our Stories.