There is a certain wisdom associated with the art of storytelling. The image of time worn individuals passing on the tales of their lives, the knowledge that they’ve ascertained throughout their many years on Earth. But for 18 year old Susannah Benjamin, this talent has come to her before the years.
Susannah Benjamin is a freshman. A gorgeous blonde co-ed at Yale, Susannah is quickly gaining credibility as a serious photographer. Last summer while her peers were stocking up on 3-ring binders and mechanical pencils, Susannah was shooting Beyonce. Her summer plans? She’ll be packing up and heading out with National Geographic. Her innate love of storytelling is turning into a lucrative career, and despite the fact that the offers keep rolling in, she is slowing it all down in order to focus on the Ivy League education she’s embarked upon. The girl really is wise beyond her years.
Susannah is a preternatural story teller. Writing since she can remember, she started translating her stories into images at the age of 11 when her mother gave her a Kodak point and shoot camera for Christmas. She describes her hometown of Greenwich, CT as banal reality, and she found a way to go somewhere else with that camera. Photography was a means of escape, a way to create new worlds. Her style is narrative based, with high contrast and heavy mood. To her, photography isn’t about a pretty person in a pretty place, it’s about the interaction between the photographer and the model. She writes stories or interprets the stories of others and projects characters onto her subject. Fantasy and surrealism dominate her work, but her main inspiration comes from faces. Big eyes, odd features — she loves to shoot teenage girls, and being one makes it quite easy to find models. Setting up shoots in the backyard growing up, she was able to take transportive images, causing people to ask where she had traveled when really she had just stepped outside. There is always intention behind her work, she possess what she calls a “clever eye” which allows her to capture the magic of the moment through real life illusion versus Photoshop tricks. The strong characters she creates most often come from her notebook — her lifeline — that she fills with sketches, quotes, and story fragments. To Susannah there is no difference between writing and photography; it is all storytelling. And that is the focal point of her work, and really her life, as she explains: “I live for art.”
Her work continues to grow more powerful as she finds new ways to explore her love of Greek mythology, literature and the intricacies of the human face. Vibrant colors and high contrast make her images unforgettable; the strong narratives within her work are so striking that it is difficult to believe such talent exists within a girl so young. But at the same time, she so masterfully expresses youth in her work, that it seems it, in fact could not have come from any one other than a young girl. She started with her school mates and has moved onto real models, but the intention is the same. Susannah is a highly intentioned girl, moving and working with purpose. The self-expression and discovery of her work is clear, and as she continues her education I’m sure we’ll be seeing even more complex stories told through her lens.