By Brian Steel
Savannah College of Art and Design Atlanta Photography professor Suellen Parker uses a mixture of sculpture, photography and a lot of digital image manipulation to create images that explore human behavior. In her work, Parker combines photography with her passion for psychology. “I think people are fascinating; I have never studied psychology before but, a lot of what I read is either psychological or sociological research. I am very attracted to the authenticity of the self,” said Parker.
Using a nondrying form of clay Parker molds sculptures of people and photographs them with the appropriate lighting for the photograph that she is going to make. Then, using Photoshop, she takes eyes and other features from photographs of people and ads them to her characters. She will then spend countless hours in front of the computer manipulating the image until her character comes to life.
Parker has been developing and honing this process for the past four years but it began by chance and ironically because, she wanted a break from the computer. “I had been studying photography for two years in graduate school and I needed a break. So I took a continuing education sculpture class and really liked it. I thought I really need to incorporate this into my photography,” said Parker. From this metamorphosis of art forms spawned a series of manipulated clay characters that have taken on a life of their own.
The first full series she completed with this technique, “Incurable,” explores how we choose to present ourselves in our quest for the perfect self. In this series she also addresses many issues including: Botox, balding, pill-pushing, home exercise and sun bathing.
Although her characters that are aiming for perfection have very noticeable flaws, Parker is not criticizing or judging them. “I like all of my characters, so I don’t think that they are tragic” said Parker. She further explained “I am interested in imperfections; Idealized images have always been boring to me. I like to make imagery that goes through dealing with imperfections.”
Fourth-year photography student Jessica Milan said she’s encouraged by Parker’s work. “She inspired me to do what I do in my work; to show things in society through inanimate objects,” said Milan.
It’s not only students who are impressed by Parker’s unique art. SCAD-Atlanta Photography professor Sandra Lee Phipps said she is just as excited about Parker’s work: “I love what she is doing, bringing 3D art into a 2D image, and combining the two realities.”
Parker is currently working on a series exploring gender roles and how some people are actively redefining them, and the working title for the series is “Gender Fluid.” “I think people are more complex than the male and female gender roles that they are assigned,” says Parker. “I know plenty of boys who would like to wear skirts for no other reason than because it’s comfortable clothing,” she said, elaborating on the issues and ideas she is addressing with this new series. Parker makes it clear however that she is not condemning gender roles or people who follow them she just feels that there is a better way: “I don’t think that it is wrong; it is just limiting.”
Parker recently presented her work in a lecture she gave at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Atlanta as a part of Atlanta Celebrates Photography, and “Incurable” is on display at Jackson Fine Art Atlanta. A New England psychologist is now using a photograph that she created for an article in The New York Times Magazine about child abuse in therapy sessions.
If you would like to see her work, you can go to www.suellenparker.com.