Sandoval Signpost
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  Featured Artist
 

Signpost Featured Artist Susan B. Graham

Artist Susan B. Graham

Desert Rose, from the series “Seeing Color Colorblind.” Image on left as seen by person with normal color vision. Image on right as seen by person (in this case, my son and father) with severe red deficient vision.

My Fate, By Choice, From the series, Persephone’s Choice: Every Woman’s Dilemma

“Fruit of Ancient Myths”

All roads lead to here: Susan B. Graham

~Oli Robbins

Photographer Susan B. Graham holds so many accomplishments and degrees, one wonders how many lives she’s lived. Inspiring students, saving lives, delivering children, creating award-winning photography, raising a child—Susan has done it all.

Before mastering digital photography and publishing photo books, Susan enjoyed working as a gynecologist, and before that, an anthropology professor. Her energy, creativity, and enterprise seem never-ending; indeed, she embodies the boundless potential of the human body and mind. Says Susan, “I’ve loved this life, and I did my best to make the most of it.”

Susan’s first career was in anthropology, in which she received a PhD. Teaching at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, Susan had many med students who were enrolled in the University’s then-unique medical program that granted medical degrees just six years out of high school.

In Susan’s third year of teaching, the University requested that she teach a seminar in medical anthropology. Says Susan of that class, “the one thing I wanted those students to learn was that physicians treat disease and patients experience illness.” Susan encouraged her students to practice medicine presently, interacting with, and learning about, their patients on a human-to-human basis.

One day, Susan’s prize pupil came to her in tears, crushed by the fact that she had received a “C” in internal medicine from an attending doctor who condemned her for being a friend to her patients. Susan found herself fuming and made a resolution right then, on the spot. Susan could have simply confronted the attending doctor and defended her student, but instead she pledged to go many, many steps further.

She remembers thinking, “Ok, ok, I know what I’m going to do here. I’m going to have to go to medical school, get that credential, and I’m eventually going to outrank those guys because not only will I have an MD degree, I’ll have a PhD too—which those guys didn’t have,” she explains.

Susan immediately began taking the necessary steps to become a medical doctor—all while raising a child and continuing to teach. What began as a somewhat brazen decision made in defiance, ended in a fulfilling career in medicine.

For the next several decades, Susan worked as an OBGYN. Says Susan, “I had fabulous relationships with some of my patients, and I loved what I did.” While she would have enjoyed teaching anthropology on the side, her sometimes one-hundred-hours-per-week schedule was incredibly demanding. Susan and her husband found themselves in Albuquerque when she was granted a residency at UNM.

Susan’s foray into the arts began slowly. She rarely had time to indulge in New Mexico’s extensive art scene, but had always appreciated learning about Navajo rugs, pueblo pottery, and other cultural artifacts while studying anthropology.

Eventually, in 1999, Susan’s longtime interest in roses ended up leading her down a creative and unforeseen path. Visiting that year’s State Fair, Susan went to see the award-winning roses and thought, “I know I have roses that look that good. I’m going to bring some.” She was right, because one of the first roses she entered was prize-winning. Susan still cultivates roses, though her rose garden, now with around sixty glorious bushes, once held a whopping 150.

Susan soon became a judge for horticulture and Rose arrangements, purchasing a lightweight compact digital Nikon camera so she could photograph the roses at each competition. That camera lasted for four years, dying from overuse, and its successor was more complex. She sought help navigating all that her new camera could do and found a class offered through UNM’s continuing education program called “How To Use Your Digital Camera.” But since Susan is a “go-all-in” kind of gal, she opted to learn a bit more, enrolling in the two-year digital photography program. She finished it in just one year, picking up a beginning certificate in web design along the way—while working. “That’s how much I loved it. I stumbled into the perfect program for me,” says Susan.

Susan began photographing maternity, but once she retired from her OBGYN practice, her subject matter expanded greatly. One of her first passion projects was inspired by her color-blind son who, just like Susan’s father, sees no red. Susan had long yearned to see the world as he does, and finally found a way to do so with the help of color theory and technical editing.

Her book, Seeing Color Colorblind, contains 18 diptychs. When a non-colorblind person views one of the diptychs, the two images look vastly different, but when a protanope (person with red deficient vision) views them, they are indistinguishable (see image Desert Rose, printed above). Says Susan, “My son still can’t see my world, but this let me see the world the way he sees it, and it made me very happy to see that his world is a vibrant one.” The book is enlightening for anyone who wishes to further understand the ways in which protanopes see.

While the colorblind series was prompted by a desire to experience the visual world of her son, Susan’s next series—based upon the myth of Persephone—began an examination of herself, and what it means to be a woman in society. Says Susan, “It wasn’t until I finished the Persephone series that I considered myself an artist.”

Susan is currently authoring of a set of guidelines for judging Rose photography for the American Rose Society Rose Shows. She was recently awarded an Honorable Mention for her Persephone photograph “Fruit of Ancient Myths” at the Corrales Fine Arts Show—a show in which she participates and looks forward to yearly. Her photography can be viewed online at susanbgraham.com, and her short photo essays, Persephone’s Choice: Every Woman’s Dilemma and Seeing Color Colorblind, are available on Amazon. Susan’s work will be included in Shades of Gray, the largest black-and-white photography show in the Southwest opening December 3 in the Fine Arts Building at Expo-NM. Susan can be reached at SusanBrandtGraham@gmail.com.

 
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