I’m so excited to bring you this beautiful interview with Susannah Conway.
Susannah is a photographer, writer and the creator of the Unravelling e-courses. A Polaroid addict and very proud aunt, she is currently hard at work on her first book, to be published in spring 2012, and collaborating with Jenifer Altman and Amanda Gilligan on a how-to book about Polaroid photography, also coming out in 2012.
Hi Susannah! Can you introduce yourself and tell me a bit about what you love and the work you do?
Susannah: I am a photographer and a writer and for the last two years I’ve been teaching a self-awareness e-course called Unravelling. The course has been the inspiration for the book I’m currently writing about healing and creativity, and I’m also collaborating on a book about Polaroid photography with Jenifer Altman and Amanda Gilligan. Both books will be published in spring 2012.
You have such a gorgeous creative style. How would you describe it and your inspiration?
Susannah: This is actually a really tricky question to answer! My home is filled with mid-century furniture and I shoot all my photographs with vintage Polaroid cameras, so I guess that vintage aesthetic filters through into everything i do. I’m also very inspired by simplicity – in colours, words, intentions and living. I own a lot of books, and way too many cameras, but everything else is kept to a minimum because i don’t like clutter, either in my house or on my website 🙂
You talk a bit on your website about always having a hand in photography but rekindling that inspiration after the death of your partner. Can you talk a bit about those middle years…the years you weren’t as inspired, and why?
Susannah: Those middle years saw me pursuing a different path for a while. After art college I didn’t have the confidence to pursue my photography dreams so I worked a regular job before going back to university to do a journalism degree. From there I worked on several national newspapers before taking a job as a fashion editor – that lasted two years before I left to go freelance. Writing has always been a part of my world, but I am so grateful to have now come full circle back to photography. The two work together for me – a 50/50 even split that bounce off each other!
I think lots of us have experienced that lack of confidence in pursuing our dreams. What do you feel was holding you back or bringing up that self-doubt? And how did you overcome it?
Susannah: Age and circumstance. When I left college I was 22 and back then (1995) the photography I wanted to do didn’t seem to have a place in the world yet. I didn’t want to be an editorial photographer, which is where most of my peers were headed, and I couldn’t see how I could make a living as a fine art photographer. I also didn’t own a computer and digital photography was still in its early days — i didn’t know how to find an alternative path.
What has changed for me now, aside from advances in technology and opportunity, is that I feel more confident in myself and my voice. As I healed in the years after he died I really got to know myself, a painful yet powerful journey which has changed everything for me — I guess this combo of being older, a bit wiser and feeling more ‘me’ has helped me to feel more confident in my work. I still have my bad days and lots of insecurities, but going through a bereavement like I did means I know intimately how short life is, and I just don’t want to waste any more time. We’ve gotta be brave and put ourselves out there, in whatever way that means for us.
Wow! Such a powerful message to absorb, that life is short and we have to be brave, put ourselves out there and stop wasting time. Was it this message that inspired your Unravelling e-course?
Susannah: Unravelling started as an evening class I taught locally. I didn’t want to teach a regular photography class so I drew inspiration from my healing journey and how I’d been using photography as a way to get to know myself again. The class was a great success and as blogging was such an important part of my life it seemed natural to find a way to share the class online somehow.
Can you tell me more about your course, what kind of transformations it’s inspired in yourself and others, what are your intentions with it, etc?
Susannah: Unravelling is an eight-week course for women that I first led online in January 2009. It’s not a photography class in that I don’t teach any photo techniques or talk about processing — instead, I invite the Unravellers to use their cameras to look at their lives, almost like they’re looking for clues and documenting what they find. The writing exercises get them digging even deeper into how they view themselves and their world.
In week five we turn our cameras to our faces and time and time again it’s the Unravellers who didn’t want to share their face photos who end up making videos of themselves talking to camera! The magic happens when women gather together in a safe space and are willing to delve into their lives with fresh eyes — they support each other and the transformations are always so incredible to witness.
As for me, leading the class has taught me how to be brave on camera as I share a new video with the class every week; it’s given me the confidence to share my thoughts without being embarrassed. Going forward into 2011 I’ll be launching an Unravelling members’ site in June—it’ll be a cosy supportive space where people can hang out, make friends and nurture their hearts. As soon as I’ve delivered the manuscript for my book I’ll be starting work on the new site!
I talk about unjobbing on my blog and I’m always fascinated with the creative ways in which people fulfill their life purpose while also paying the bills. Can you talk a little bit about fulfilling your own purpose with the work you do and some other challenges you’ve overcome (or are overcoming) in the past few years?
Susannah: In the years since the bereavement I have learned how to live on my own as an independent and self-supporting woman. It hasn’t always been easy— and I have the credit card debt to prove it! — but I got a first sense of my true purpose when I moved to a new city (by myself and not knowing anyone there) in the autumn of 2008. That was when I was invited to teach the evening class, and from that small beginning I discovered the work I feel most passionate about — holding a space for women to heal their hearts and reconnect with themselves. Helping them learn how to become their own greatest ally.
I always hated working in an office and have been self-employed in one way or another since 2002, but for the last two years I’ve been creating this online business of mine; there’s no how-to manual so every step of the way I am learning and figuring out what works and what doesn’t. I’ve never considered myself to be a business-minded person so it still surprises me that i have a business at all – I guess it helps that it’s not exactly a traditional business 🙂
SO loving what you have to say here Susannah; so many tangents we could talk on. But I want you to leave everyone with one answer: If you had to sum up in a single short sentence one piece of advice you’d give to women, or even one piece of advice you’d give to your younger self, what would it be?
Susannah: Next time you stand in front of a mirror, smile at the woman you see there; she is your greatest ally and it’s time to get to know her.
Thank you Susannah for your beautiful, wise words!
You can read more about Susannah Conway’s shenanigans on her blog at SusannahConway.com and connect with her on Twitter. Registration for the next Unravelling class opens on Saturday December 4th.