Why We Gave Susan Seubert the Keys to our Instagram Account | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
(Susan Seubert)

Why We Gave Susan Seubert the Keys to our Instagram Account

Who wouldn’t want to transport themselves to Hawaii via their smartphone?

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Susan Seubert is a nationally exhibited fine art and editorial photographer based in Portland, Oregon and Maui, Hawaii. In 2011, she went on assignment for Smithsonian magazine, capturing the beauty of Haleakala. In November, her photography will appear in Smithsonian’s 101 Objects special issue, but you can see her latest work by following Smithsonian magazine on Instagram. As our featured photographer of the week, Seubert will be giving us an insider’s look at Maui. To find out more about Seubert, visit her fine art and photography websites.

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What are you Instagramming this week?

I'll be focusing on Maui's natural beauty, specifically through the lens of plant endemism. Native, indigenous and endemic - Maui  (and Hawaii in general) has one of the highest rates of plant endemism in the world.  However, because of various reasons, these plants are slowly becoming extinct, right along side the native birds. 

Some aren't very showy but have great stories and make good patterns for visuals.  The hiking is the fun part with tremendous views of the valley isle as a bonus. Some plants were introduced by the Polynesians, some only occur on Maui, some only occur in Hawaii (throughout the islands).  It's an incredible story and I thought it would be an interesting way to showcase Maui, along side of the usual, glorious ocean.  I'll probably throw in a turtle too.  

What was the first time you got paid for your photography?

My first assignment was shooting for Newsweek as a second photographer - it was the Tonya Harding scandal in Portland, Oregon.  The photo was terrible. As I wrote on my own site, “My grandmother was thrilled and brought a copy of the magazine to her church in Ohio.  I would like to say that the image was fantastic, but it was in fact a little embarrassing.  The subject’s eyes were closed and I can’t help but think they ran it only because it was in focus.”

Who are your favorite influences?

I've always been drawn to specific works rather than people. Anna Atkins' early cyanotypes, early portrait works from the likes of Lewis Carroll and Julia Margaret Cameron all the way up to the Untitled Film Stills by Cindy Sherman, the Kitchen Table series by Carrie Mae Weems, some of the performative works by Dieter Appelt are a big influences, but so is the street photography of some of the Magnum greats like Elliot Erwitt and Henri Cartier Bresson.  

There are so many great individual works too: at home my husband and I have a piece called the "Blister Gunner: Rescue at Rabaul, 1944" by Horace Bristol.  That piece is amazing - it informs a whole generation of fashion photographers yet was made as a documentary piece during World War II.  To me, this piece is one of the finest examples of the transformative power of photography.  But we also have a lot of portraits by Herman Leonard. He taught me that being positive, not only towards your subjects, but also to fellow photographers, is one of the best ways to contribute to our photographic community.  He was amazing

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