Susan Unterberg

Susan Unterberg is a photographer living and working in New York City. She has had numerous solo shows in New York and across the United States. She is included in major museum collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA and the Jewish Museum.


You call yourself a photographer, and have been making more or less traditional photographs for a long time. Yet in your new work, photographs of your face or body are obscured, digitally manipulated, and combined with found imagery. How are you thinking about photography and the act of self-representation?


For a long while, I have been dissatisfied with “traditional” photography, so I have been experimenting with other methods (concrete and digital) and making images that relate to other mediums that are less involved with photographic moments than with process and invention.

Untitled photocollage, dimensions variable, 2015

Untitled photocollage, dimensions variable, 2015

In my new work, I always begin with a color photograph of myself, but without knowing what the end result will be. The more I move away from this documentation, the more I am able to experiment with the unexpected.  And often these farther-away “truths” describe a sense of myself that is truer than a straightforward one. They allow me to see things that are not there, and to see through things that are. Letting go of visual similitude leaves me totally free to invent and explore feelings.

As I make more of these, they begin to form clusters that deal with different interests and concerns in my life: some of them feel more political (I am always affected by what I see going on around me and read in papers); others are more surreal or introspective, even mythological.

Untitled photocollage, dimensions variable, 2016

Untitled photocollage, dimensions variable, 2016

By using appropriated images gathered from my own personal archive, I do not experience any hierarchy of looking and seeing. The only real issue is whether something fits aesthetically or clarifies the emotion at hand.

While a photographic portrait can give us a visual representation of the self in an instant, I want these new images to tell me something else – something about myself that I didn’t know was true until I saw it from a strange new angle.

I see this work as about an aging woman and how she feels more and more invisible in her daily life. I want her to be seen and I want her vulnerability to become a strength. I think these ‘in your face’ portraits make her aging less idealized. And while they depict an inescapable sadness, I want there also to be some comic relief.

Untitled photocollage, dimensions variable, 2016

Untitled photocollage, dimensions variable, 2016

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