Susan Carr died on Monday, September 3, at home in Chicago, after a seventeen-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Her photography explores how layers of history and memory gather in places, whether by focusing on architectural detail or the intimate spaces of long-inhabited homes. Carr also served as an educator with the American Society of Media Photographers.
Susan Margaret Carr was born on April 5, 1963, in West Lafayette, Indiana, to Louis and Margaret Carr. She graduated from West Lafayette High School, where she first discovered her passion for photography, in 1981. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo in 1985. In 1987, she founded a photography business in Kalamazoo with Gary Cialdella; Carr Cialdella Photography specialized in architectural work. When Carr moved to Chicago in 2005, she and Cialdella made Chicago the base for their business as well.
Carr’s fine art photography is in the documentary tradition of Berenice Abbott, Walker Evans, and Wright Morris, but rather than focusing either on large architectural perspectives or on portraits of people, Carr emphasizes objects and details that give a sense of experience. In her Intimate Landscapes series, produced between 1994 and 2000, Carr photographed parks and older neighborhoods in Michigan, Chicago, Savannah, Georgia, and Athens, Greece, in search of “visual vignettes that reveal the complex harmonies of past and present,” in her words.
In Intimate Histories, a more tightly designed documentary project that she informally called the “home project,” Carr photographed homes all over the U.S. in which the same family or individual had lived for forty years or more. These photographs of domestic interiors, taken from 2000 to 2009, are indirect portraits of the lives of each home’s inhabitants. By focusing on objects that have accumulated over time, Carr captures each home’s specific emotional tenor as she documents houses and apartments of people with varied socioeconomic backgrounds. Photographs from this project are in the collections of the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago and the Brauer Museum of Art in Valparaiso, Indiana. The project will be exhibited at the Monroe Arts Center in Monroe, Wisconsin, from September 7 to October 19, under the title, “Intimate Histories: The Power of Place and Significance of Home.”
Carr’s passion for photography also inspired her work as an educator and author. Carr first became involved in the Michigan chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), a photography trade association, in the 1990s. She served on the National Board of Directors for ASMP from 2001 to 2007 and as president of the board from 2004 to 2006. In 2007, Carr received the International Photographic Council Leadership Award from the United Nations. Since then, Carr has worked as Education Director for ASMP, organizing and managing the highly successful series of ASMP Strictly Business conferences. Carr also edited the seventh edition of ASMP Professional Business Practices in Photography, otherwise known as the “business Bible,” which came out in 2008.
Following on that editorial success, Carr wrote The Art and Business of Photography, which was published by Allworth Press in 2011. In this guide for photographers, Carr shows how to bring business acumen together with creative vision to succeed in the profession. Carr addresses both the pragmatic side of professional photography — marketing, copyright, licensing — and how to maintain the delicate balance between art and business, personal work and work for clients.
Susan’s friends and family will remember her as a lively conversationalist, dog lover, and political junkie who delighted in travel, cooking, good food, and entertaining in her beautiful home. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March of 2011 and has been fighting the disease since then. Carr continued working on both professional and artistic projects, preparing a book of her “home project” photographs for publication and editing The ASMP Guide to New Markets in Photography, which will be released on September 27, 2012.
Susan was preceded in death by her mother, Margaret Carr and is survived by her father, Louis Carr (wife Marge) of West Lafayette, Indiana, sister Bonnie Niemann of Fort Wayne, Indiana, brother George Carr (wife Susan Rachel) of Chicago, nieces and nephews Michelle Niemann of Madison, Wisconsin, Carol Hainje (husband Josh) and David Niemann of Fort Wayne, and Emily and Zachary Carr of Chicago, friend Nancy Marttila of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and devoted dog Maggie. Please send memorials to support publication of a book of Carr’s home project photos (email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information) or to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (www.pancan.org). Service to be held at the Chapel in Graceland Cemetery, 4001 North Clark Street, Chicago, on Saturday, October 20, at 1:00 pm.
© Shawn G. Henry
An illustrated appreciation of Susan's work is on the Strictly Business blog that she founded.