Suzanne Rochette interview
Blue Mitchell: Where did you grow up? Can you tell me what it was like for you growing up?
Suzanne Rochette: I was born and raised in Quebec City, capital of the Province of Quebec in the French part of Canada. We had a cottage near the St-Laurence river where we spent all weekends, holidays and summers. In winter all roads near the cottage were closed and there was no running water. My father who was quite an original man, he was bringing us there in a sleigh attached to a snowmobile. We were the only family going there in winter but the memories are awesome. We would go walk on the frozen river and slide on ice. In the summer we were let free to play all day, going home only to eat. The river had a great influence on our lives. That’s where I learned to swim, we used to dive into it when there were storms and go on picnics in the anchored boat. My love for seascapes goes back to my childhood near the river.
I use to take a lot of pictures when I was a kid. My parents always had the latest popular cameras. I was also fascinated by the itinerant photographers that would pass in our street, took photographs of our cottages and then would sell the image mounted in a small key-chain viewer. I had a wonderful childhood, but absolutely without any artistic surrounding. My parents were middle-income workers for whom a museum visit was not part of a fun thing to do. Reading was my favorite escaping way. From age eight I started to read all novels that were available. Reading made me travel and discover the world.
When did you start making artwork?
In 1988 after living in Europe for a while I moved to Montreal, the largest city in the province. I discovered photography when a friend lends me her reflex camera to photograph my 6 months old daughter. I then bought an old 35mm camera. Very fast my interests got broader. In 1996 I quit my nursing job and took a commercial photography course. I then worked a few years as a photography assistant while doing a lot of personal contracts, mostly industrial photography. It’s while doing those contracts that I started to develop a personal style and began to be recognized for it.I discovered the artistic potential of Polaroid while working with Polaroid Polagraph 35mm film, an absolutely extraordinary high contrast film. It’s with this film that I started working on a more consistent body of work, the first one being the quarry project.
I remember making the images and feeling such harmony and balance between my vision and the way to express it.
Why are you drawn to your Polaroid pinhole toy camera? What does it do for you other cameras do not?
In 2001 I won one of the Polaroid International professional contest first-place and ended up with tons of Polaroid Polagraph as a prize. When I won again in 2004, I decided to get a broader selection of Polaroid product and ordered a Polaroid pinhole toy camera.
I still remember the first image I made with the camera, a view of a lake and foliage which appeared to reflect the feelings I had looking at the scenery. From then on I started to use it more and more, always with Polaroid 669 film that gives long exposures a characteristic blue tint. When I did bring the camera to Magdalen’s Islands, I remember making the images and feeling such harmony and balance between my vision and the way to express it.
The Polaroid pinhole is made of cardboard and I assembled it with black electrician tape. The shutter is a black tape that I take off and on to open and close it. I don’t have to think about metering, viewfinder, aperture, lens… everything is so intuitive and runs smoothly. This camera has almost become an extension of my brain and eyes. When I look at my subject, I see immediately what I want to get on the Polaroid. I then plunge in a sort of a meditative state, when nothing else around me seems to exist. Very often I sit on the ground with the camera for hours, shooting until I exactly get what I feel. When I finally have THE one, the feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment is incredible.With Polaroid closing all their production lines, I did stock quite a large amount of film but eventually will have to stop using Polaroid. Makes me very sad. But I did start back to use film with a Diana and Brownie Hawkeye.
What are your favorite subjects to shoot?
My favorite subjects are seascapes, wrecked boats, boats, and boat’s names. Anything related to that will appeal to me. I can walk on the beach for hours. When I travel I look for boats. I even found one on the side of road 66 in California. Architecture is another one. I went to Bangkok for a few days last year and was thrilled to see how well the palaces came out on Polaroid.
I also love old hotels and motels, abandoned houses and cars. Anything that reflects man’s trace and passage, even when the memories are not necessarily flattering for us, human gender. I often get the sense that I am the only survivor on earth when I go to these places and record images of that loneliness.
Who are some of your photographic heroes and why?
Michael Kenna is truly my favorite photographer, for the incredible night landscapes that he makes. Even tough I don’t make portraits, Sebastio Salgado is one that I admire the most for his humanity and the human suffering history that he has capture through out the years. Dorothea Lange for her innovative and tenacious recording of the grand depression period.
Photography is not just an image on paper, it’s a little piece of yourself that your sharing with others.
What is the greatest photographic lesson you’ve learned?
That no matter how good a technical photographer you are, if there is no reflection of your emotion it will be difficult to touch and reach others with your work. Photography is not just an image on paper, it’s a little piece of yourself that your sharing with others.
So learn the technique up to a point where you will no longer need it.