Susan Burnstine’s Absence of Being is a subtly indelible photographic exploration of the philosophical yet emotive belief that although we exist in the perpetual present, the traces of the past persist in the here-and-now, however much they seem to be effaced.
Burnstine is one of the few photographers today avidly pursuing alternative processes to create an idiosyncratic and deeply personal visual landscape. As a child, she suffered vivid nightmares that stayed with her for days.
When awake, these powerful dreams would induce a liminal state that opened up an exploration of the sublevels of her mind, wherein she discovered a curious synthesis of magic and reality. She found in these portals to the unknown states of mind that bridged the gap between real and unreal, and even symbolic intimations of life and death. Though the intensity of her dreams did not lessen as an adult, her response transformed. “Initially,” she says, “I was lost within the haze of my dreams. But now, it is through my dreams that I truly see.”
Susan sought to find a way to portray her dream-like visions entirely in-camera, rather than with post-processing digital manipulations. To achieve this, she has created twenty-three handmade film cameras and lenses that are frequently unpredictable and technically challenging. The cameras are primarily made out of plastic, vintage camera parts, and random household objects, with single-element lenses molded from plastic and rubber. Learning to overcome their extensive optical limitations required Burnstine to rely on instinct and intuition—the same tools that are key when attempting to interpret dreams.
Susan’s initial body of work, Within Shadows, resolved in 2009 and resulted in her first multi-award winning monograph of the same name (Charta, 2011). Her second body of work, Absence of Being, was published by Damiani Editore in Fall 2016 and has earned much critical praise.
Susan is an award winning fine art and commercial photographer originally from Chicago now based in Los Angeles. She is represented in galleries across the world, widely published throughout the globe, conducts workshops internationally, has had over 25 international solo exhibits and has also written for several photography magazines, including a monthly column entitled American Connection for Black and White Photography Magazine (UK).
A plane disappears into the clouds. We can’t see it, hear it or touch it, but we know it’s there. Our senses can give us no tangible evidence it continues to exist. But still, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt it’s there. We suspend limitations of our senses, and believe. When a person dies, do they simply cease to exist because they no longer have a physical presence? Or do they remain with us through the remnants of the lives they lived? When a building is razed, is it truly obliterated, or does its imprint remain in the collective unconscious?
This ongoing series explores how the past remains with us, if only in shadows. These images capture fleeting memories, spotted from the corner of an eye that vanish the moment we turn to really look. And yet they remain, for the imprint remains with us. We are living in the present, but the past reminds us that it is part of us, too, as is the future, and we of them.
With this body of work as with my former series, I captured these visions entirely in-camera using a collection of hand-made film cameras and lenses that are frequently unpredictable and technically challenging. The cameras are primarily made out of plastic, vintage camera parts and random household objects and the single element lenses are molded out of plastic and rubber. Learning to overcome their extensive limitations has required me to rely on instinct and intuition – the same tools that are key when trusting in the unseen.
About Susan Burnstine
Susan Burnstine is an award-winning professional fine art and commercial photographer who builds homemade cameras and lenses using plastic, vintage camera parts, and random household objects. Susan is represented in galleries across the globe and widely published throughout the world. She frequently curates and serves on juries for exhibitions and has written for several photography magazines, including a monthly column for Black & White Photography (UK). Additionally, she teaches workshops across North America and is a regular portfolio reviewer at events across the country. Susan’s first monograph, Within Shadows, earned the Gold Award for PX3 Prix De La Photographie, Paris (Px3) in the Professional Fine Art Books category. She was also selected for Photo-Eye’s 2011 booklist. Her second monograph, Absence of Being, was published by Damiani Editore in Fall 2016 and has earned much critical praise.