Suzanne Porter originally trained as a sociologist, with a fascination for worldwide cultures. She wanted to go where few people had been before and as such, spent 20 years working as a social documentary and travel photographer, mostly in Africa. Suzanne’s images have helped bring awareness to social issues for organisations such as WaterAid, CARE, and Médecins Sans Frontières and have been exhibited in numerous places including the British Museum. The iconic Mamounia Hotel, in Marrakech, has a whole floor dedicated to her black and white portraits.
Suzanne has stepped out of her busy schedule to talk to CameraWorld and tell us all about her exciting work.
"In 2006, I bought a crumbling riad in the ancient Marrakech medina and began splitting my time between travel commissions for magazines and guide books and running photography experiences. My tours took people off the beaten path to discover a Morocco only a local knows.
I soon learnt that customers were frustrated with finding photo experiences, of a similar quality, in other countries. People were spending hours researching but ultimately risking a lot with guesswork... I wanted to help them find high quality photo experiences, in other parts of the world, with a trustworthy and easy to use resource.
Calling on my worldwide networks, gathered from years living and working abroad, I launched www.clik-trip.com, connecting customers to recommended local photographers, online courses and photography speakers, around the world."
How and when did you get into photography?
After completing my sociology degree, I wanted to see if the text-book theories applied to the real world and spent my days travelling, dancing and snowboarding… and then I fractured my spine in a boating accident.
Unable to use my legs, during two and half years of rehabilitation, I needed to find something else to fill the gaps. As I was eligible for free adult education courses I signed up to all sorts of things including journalism, Japanese and a City and Guilds in Black and White Photography.
It was a huge surprise to find people liked my photos and two of the first prints I ever sold were to Kate Winslet at a summer exhibition in a local restaurant. I started to think that photography could be the answer to enable me to continue my travels but in a bit more of a ‘focused’ way.
My back was extremely painful in British winters so I grabbed a bag full of transparency film and headed down to the sun. I landed in Cape Town, South Africa, where I found a job as a production manager, organising photo shoots for the catalogues and advertising world.
In my spare time, I headed into the townships to stay with the township Momma’s who had set up B&B’s to try and encourage grass routes tourism. My days were spent documenting the positive side of everyday life in a notoriously dangerous place.
Whilst I was there, I received an email from the cousin of a photojournalist who I assisted in London. He owned a tobacco farm in Zimbabwe.
‘The harvest is about to end. Let us know if you want to share a little of it with us as we don’t know how long we’ll have it...’
I packed up my cameras and flew into Zimbabwe to document life on a tobacco farm during land invasions. These photos formed an exhibition at the Zimbabwe High Commission in London and it was from there that I received my first commission – a shoot in Lesotho with CARE International.
What does photography mean to you?
It’s all about access… Inherently shy, I use my camera to get to places and meet people. I love the human interaction and never knowing what situation I’ll end up in. Photographing for guide-books meant I had to get access quickly and I learned the skills to do this whilst also respecting the people whose environment I had come into. During my years running photo tours, I came across a lot of people who had difficulty approaching people and getting that access in the limited time they had. I wanted to pass on my skills and show how having a camera can open doors and be a fun experience for all involved.
What equipment do you have now and what is your favourite lens?
Where do you get inspiration?
My daily inspiration is the 100 photographers signed up on clik-trip offering amazing photo experiences in 50 countries around the world. They have all come from a recommendation and I love selecting them on their work, geography and genre… Personally I only photograph when I travel. It’s funny, I’m now based in the French Alps, which for some people would be a dream location. But I never get my camera out here, apart from to take photos of my daughter, cat or chickens. I prefer to wait until I go back to Africa or elsewhere.
Would you consider yourself a hobbyist or a paid professional?
It is actually a very important question for me “post COVID". Lockdowns and international travel bans have heavily impacted professional photographers and we need to re-invent ourselves to continue to earn a living. I’ve been a professional for more than 20 years and clik-trip has allowed me to do this. Using the platform to reach an international audience I can now offer virtual talks and online mentoring in the photography lectures and online courses categories. It's a great support for photographers wanting to follow the same path and a fantastic free resource for customers.
In these difficult times, I'm personally advocating for full recognition of the profession and for photographers to be paid for their knowledge and work. Especially as we don’t know how long it will last.
Do you plan what you want from a photo in advance?
Not normally as my work is all about capturing the moment. Having said that, there was a photo I ‘saw’ in advance that I wanted to capture when I was on a commission for WaterAid in Burkina Faso. When I saw it coming together as I imagined in front of me, I got a huge adrenaline buzz. To top it off, that same photo went on to be on the front page of the Independent newspaper!
I love this message I received from the WaterAid Media Manager: 'I often think back to our adventures in Burkina Faso - I remember you arrived after getting caught in a sandstorm in the desert - you kind of shook off the sand and got on with it and went on to get that full front page of The Independent.' It kind of sums up my work process at the time.
What has been your most memorable photo shoot and why?
When I lived in Morocco, I was asked to photograph Sir Richard Branson and his family for the day. That was quite memorable. But the photo shoots that really stay with me are those for the NGO’s. Maybe Sierra Leone as we had to take a military helicopter from the airport to the hotel. I also spent a lot of time at music festivals in West Africa and have had the honour to photograph some legendary musicians such as Ali Farka Touré, Tinariwen and Robert Plant.
What is one piece of advice you would like to offer a new photographer looking to start out or to someone looking to go professional?
I honestly think that the way to succeed is to keep learning, to keep improving. I worked in a photography studio as an assistant in London making tea and cleaning the toilets. There were a number of us, all wanting to work in different fields. The ones that succeeded were the ones that kept going. I learnt so much from the photographers I assisted from fashion photographers to photojournalists. You take what you can and adapt it to find your style. It’s also the thought process behind www.clik-trip.com. I want to provide as much variety as possible to fellow photographers, that is easily searchable without the hours of thankless research and guesswork. There really is something on there for everyone and such inspirational photographers sharing all sorts of skills.