Fixation: Thanks for talking to us, Susannah. First off, how would you describe the kind of photography you do?
Susannah Ireland: Editorial and documentary photography for newspapers, magazines and charities on the whole, with occasional commercial assignments thrown in.
F: How did your career get started?
SI: After doing a Sociology degree, I enrolled in the NCTJ Press Photography and Photojournalism course in Sheffield then moved to news agency News Team International (now SWNS) in Birmingham which got my foot in the door covering news, features, portraits and sport assignments for national newspapers on a daily basis.
F: Of which project are you most proud?
SI: I am particularly proud of my project covering India’s Widows of Vrindavan, who are shunned from society. The scale of the problem is vast. In some parts of Hindu culture, women are seen as the cause of their husband’s death and relatives believe they should be cast out.
The segregation of widows can be so extreme that in some places they are prevented from attending family gatherings, including weddings. Many poor widows are abandoned by their families and left to fend for themselves.
According to census data, India is believed to have tens of millions of widows. Thousands live out their lives in the ashrams in the ancient temple-filled city of Vrindavan, popularly known as the City of Widows.
F: You’ve done a few projects in India – what about this country interests you and entices you back?
SI: India is a fascinating country from both a visual and journalistic perspective. I have freelanced for various editorial publications and NGOs there since autumn 2014. There are so many untold and important humanitarian and environmental stories to be covered over there as it’s a country which is facing enormous global and economic development in the face of ancient traditions, which can often hinder progress.
There is such a rich cultural tradition embedded in everyday life of India, the effects are wide-ranging and often tragic, especially for those marginalised in society. I feel it is my duty to visually explore these issues on a deeper level in order to effect change.
F: What has been the most challenging for you?
SI: It is always challenging working in a foreign country where I don’t speak the local language. Working with unknown fixers and translators can be difficult when dealing with sensitive stories as it is doubly challenging to convince the subjects of the story to trust me. Gaining access to particular sectors of society who are predisposed to distrust the media can be half the problem.
F: That must be a challenge indeed! Can you tell us more?
SI: For example, I had enormous difficulty in gaining the trust of the transgender community in New Delhi, the subject of an ongoing project I am working on. As a collective, they have often suffered abuse and discrimination at the hands of the Indian media, local law enforcement and the wider community in general. They were extremely reluctant to allow me access to their daily lives at all. I had to be extremely transparent in my approach about exactly how and where the images I took would be used and what they stood to gain by allowing me into their lives.
F: Where do you plan to take your work next? Is there anything that you haven’t covered that you really want to?
SI: I plan to continue to work on long term projects and refine my visual story telling abilities, around the world including India. Hopefully through doing this, my work will attract the attention of publications (such as The New York Times) which have a positive significant influence over policy makers in those fields.
I am particularly interested in the wider effects of migration and would like to explore this area in greater depth in the future.
F: What is your kit setup at the moment?
SI: I use:
- Two Canon EOS 5D Mark IIIs
- Canon 70-200mm fƒ/2.8 IS lens
- Canon 50mm Macro fƒ/2.5 lens
- Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens
- Canon 17-40mm f/4 lens
- ProFoto B2 studio lights, softbox and reflectors
- ThinkTank Airport Commuter bag
- Six 8GB Lexar CF cards
Susannah Ireland was talking to Jon Stapley. See more at susannahireland.com