It’s June already! I know, we can’t believe it either, half a year just like that! For June’s Papergang box, we have enlisted one of our favourite photographers Susan Castillo. Susan’s work harnesses the power of light to create mood and depth within her imagery, she makes the everyday houseplant look dramatic, so you can see why we were so happy to pop her work in June’s Papergang box!
We thought we would have a little natter with Susan to learn more about her process and her black cat, Stephen.
Our lovely readers are keen to know more about you, so let’s begin with the basics; where do you come from and how did you get to become the person you are today?! Was it your time at Glasgow Metropolitan or have you always had a passion to create?
Well I'm from Scotland and currently live and work in the Southside of Glasgow with my husband Darren and 9 month old son Max. We moved here almost 11 years ago so I could go back to college and study Photography. Photography wasn't my first career choice in fact my degree is in Design and Craft, it wasn't until after I graduated and went traveling that my passion for taking photos grew - Back then digital didn't exist like it does today and smart phones were certainly not around, so after a year traveling I had to ship home a box filled to the brim with rolls of film. This was a pivotal point in my creative life when I knew I wanted a career making images.
I have always been creative, from a very young age my parents new I'd do something within a creative field; it just wasn't clear to them of myself exactly what that would be, as I love experimenting, trying new things and learning new skills. It took me a long time to get to the point I'm at today, however I believe my work now reflects that journey and encompasses both the designer and photographer in me.
Your work features an incredible use of lighting; it’s what draws us in and gets our senses tingling! What is your favourite thing to capture on camera, be it people or plants and why?
I don't think there is one thing I love to photograph more than another. You kindly mentioned my use of light and that's the thing that really motivates me; how a subject is lit is what creates a mood or emotion. I get really giddy about little elements of light and how it brings to life a subject, especially if it’s in the studio and I'm in control and creating it. I guess that's why I photograph a lot of flowers and foliage: their delicate structure and unique twists and folds are great for responding to various lighting techniques.
Regarding this month’s Papergang box which is themed “dark botany” – what got you excited to peruse capturing nature?! We absolutely love your Traveling Light series and your PWL Wilting collection; the images are stunning with their use of colour and mood!
Thank you. That means a great deal as these are two on going personal series of images that have really shaped my style. I guess it was the discovery of a technique called Painting With Light that really sparked my enthusiasm to start the Traveling Light series. I'm very much about creating an image over taking an image. I like to be involved in where the light goes and how the subject looks to feel fully rewarded. And I wanted to do this with shots from my travels. This technique gives me an element of that control, and I also get so immersed in this process; most are shot on slide film and exposures can take as long as 45 min per frame, since I literally paint the light on one stroke at a time. That the result is the best possible holiday picture, really capturing my experience of a place.
The same goes for the PWL Wilting Collection. In an age where imagery is so all consuming, easy accessible and quick to produce. This series allows me to step back from that and slow things right down. In my dark studio with just my camera and a torch I quietly paint the light on decaying flowers; I choose decaying flowers over fresh as I like the symbolism of time that comes with the subject and the process here. The dream is to take some time out to peruse building on both these series...one day!
Is it rewarding to see your designs on notebooks and journals? And of course, what is your favourite stationery item?!
Yes! I'm such a stationery geek! It’s like a dream come true having my own stationary collection.
The sketch book! Hands down the best item of stationary there is, I use one every day.
How does your creative process start, for the Dark Botany series did you think “hey let’s capture some plants on camera” or was there more planning behind it? How long does it usually take to say and image is ‘final’?
It varies. But my process is quite a lengthy one. I start with capturing every element in camera first...that's not exactly true. I start with research and sketching of ideas then once I have a better understanding of what I need to create a design, I get to work shooting all the component elements. There can be a huge amount of individual elements for just one design, and each of them have to be carefully edited and cut-out ready for use. One of the most important aspect to my work is that the initial shots are almost exactly shot how they will be seen in the final design, which also includes the background colour. These are decisions I have to make very early on. From here the development of the designs can take weeks and sometimes months.
Who are your main inspirations? Be it people or the everyday.
That's a tough one. I'm inspired by many things and lots of people. From a work point of view the Dutch master painters are a constant source of inspiration for me, but by no means my only source there are just too many to mention them all.
Do you have any advice to any budding photographers out there? And what is a little motto you like to live by?
Learn the skills of your trade, understand your equipment, follow the rules, and appreciate those who have come before you. Then put all that aside, experiment, break the rules and find what makes you happy because that's what will makes you unique.
I've used this quote before but it’s one I try to follow “The world is what you think of it. So think of it differently and your life will change.” by Paul Arden.
Last question, (we promise), do you have any cool pets?!
Emmmmm YEAH! A very sociable and cuddly black cat called Stephen who lives and guards my studio. He's our first child.
Thank you Susan!
You can find Susan on Instagram @susancastillophoto
View her portfolio at susancastillo.co.uk and grab her notebooks over on ohhdeer.com.
Don’t forget to subscribe and get your mitts on Susan’s Papergang box!