Our seventy eighth interview in this series of intimate interviews is with talented mobile photographer and artist Susan Detroy from Eugene, Oregon, United States. This is a moving and powerful interview, it is earnest and unrelentingly enjoyable. When mixed with the arresting art, you realise you’re voyaging through the life and loves of a very enigmatic American artist. Enjoy.
To read the other published interviews in this series including artists, Adria Ellis, Rino Rossi, Mehmet Duyulmus, Alexis Rotella, Lou Ann Sanford Donahue, Irene Oleksiuk, Kerry Mitchell, Filiz Ak, Dale Botha, Lisa Mitchell, M. Cecilia Sao Thiago, Deborah McMillion, Rita Colantonio, Amy Ecenbarger, Jane Schultz, Anca Balaj, Joyce Harkin, Armineh Hovanesian, Kate Zari Roberts, Vicki Cooper, Peter Wilkin, Barbara Braman, Becky Menzies, Sukru Mehmet Omur, Sarah Bichachi, Michel Pretterklieber, Alon Goldsmith, Judy Lurie Whalberg, Andrea Bigiarini, Sean Hayes, Oola Cristina, Kathleen Magner-Rios, Linda Toki, Deb Field, Emilo Nadales, Lydia Cassatt, David Hayes, Jean Hutter, Frederic Deschênes, Mark Schnidman, Fatma Korkut, Fleur Schim, Rob Pearson-Wright, Dieter Gaebel, James Ellis, Marco P Prado, Jeronimo Sanz, Manuela Matos Monteiro, Bleu Chemiko, Manuela Basaldella, Stefania Piccioni, Luis Rodríguez, Marilisa Andriani (@mitrydate) Mayte Balcells (@artofmayte), Nicole Christophe, Jennifer Graham, Cathrine Halsør, Paul Toussaint, Carol Wiebe, Julie Denning, Kim Clayton (@berleyart), Karen Messick, Serap Utaş , MaryJane Rosenfeld, Paul Suciu, Susan Latty (@pause.and.breathe), John Nieto, Phyllis Shenny, Joy Barry, Max Lies Derdonk, Rita Tipunina, Violet Martins, Nizzar Ben Chekroune, Lynette Sheppard, Paul-André Hamel, Rejane Rubino and myself, go here.
All images ©Susan Detroy
What was your childhood or earliest ambition?
As a child I loved dancing. I am not sure I felt ambition, yet I was interested in being a dancer. Starting from toddler through my life, I took many types of dance/movement lessons. I learned tap, ballet, ice skating, tumbling, and modern dance. Beginning as an adolescent and into my adult life I took ballroom dancing classes; Foxtrot, Salsa, Swing, East Coast and West Coast, Rumba, Nightclub Two-step and Hustle. I wanted to go to college to be a professional dancer. I was dissuaded and funnelled into more “practical” skill-building career path. In college I continued my dancing as a physical education elective and I danced in a competition. I continued dancing through my life. In retrospect my young girl acquiescence has been a regret. I dance often but differently, as age changes my abilities.
I think my first recollection of recognition would be in grade school making art from my hand. I like drawing and liked the attention from teachers. I also recall performing on stage for grade school contest. I performed a dance. I dressed up as Carmen Miranda. I loved costuming, dressing and dancing. I enjoyed changing from everyday person to a performer. I did like the attention which I think might have been recognition.
My memory about working as a young person is faint. My family tried to keep my sisters and I out of the work force. They had aspirations of our living wealthy lives and did not want us to work. I believe this may have made my coping later life challenging. I was raised to be taken care of instead of caring for myself. I think I had a part time job in high school working as a cashier at a neighbourhood drug store, well what it was called a drug store. Where I grew up there were stores that had a variety of products including a place to eat and a soda fountain. These were small stores that were part of a line of stores built next to one another. It was small strip of buildings a block from my home. These were shopping centers, we called them. They existed before covered malls.
Private or State school?
I attended public school from kindergarten through high school. I went to a grade school including kindergarten through eighth grade at two schools. The first school I attended through fourth grade and the second school was through eighth grade. This change from one school to another happened because my family moved to a suburban home that was away from my father’s dental office. My parents dreamed of building their own home and this was a step toward that goal. Previously our home was attached to my father’s office through a screened breezeway. I attended two different high schools. Attending two was the result of integration and busing. The first high school was downtown where I was bused for my freshman and sophomore years. The second school was built in the suburbs nearer to where I lived. Now as an adult I believe this suburban school was a mostly successful attempt at that time to keep the schools segregated. All of these schools were in Indiana.
University or Work?
I attended DePauw University in Indiana where I studied Spanish and Psychology. I loved studying language and went to summer school in Mexico during my high school years and lived in Spain as a student in my college years. I studied in Spain my junior year through Vanderbilt University. I lived in Spain during the Franco riots. Franco was a dictator. A few of the students in my class participated in the protests and were deported back to the US. It was a deeply interesting and eye-opening time in my young life. Being out of the US was a life-changing experience. I learned a lot more about my country living outside of it than I had living in it. I did not take any personal political stance at that time. I completed my college studies in Indiana and have a liberal arts degree from DePauw. After college I then worked as high school teacher first in St. Louis, Missouri then in Cincinnati, Ohio. I moved to Oregon in the early 70’s where I worked as a teacher, photographer, artist and art consultant, as well as a long list of in-between jobs, such as landscaper, waitress, security officer, social media consultant and art exhibit designer.
Who was or is still is your mentor?
When I think of mentor, I think of Dan Powell, my first photography professor at University of Oregon. I returned to college in the 90’s to start a second undergraduate degree. Originally, I had a goal to secure a masters. I was besotted with photography and I took every photography course possible. I worked in an optics lab for part of my school time. This was a period in my life when I turned my attention to art and expanded my art making. I started to call myself an artist. As an older student I was impressed with people who I felt had substance and saw me as the strong learner I could be. Dan Powell was the first and most impactful professor in my college years at U of O. I continue a connection with him through social media and email. I will always feel his opinion is important. He was a kind and thoughtful instructor and gave me a lot of encouragement to follow my ideas. He supported the idea to create from where I felt the strongest and be ok with making work outside the norm. His understanding of the importance of his role and support of my art continues.
How physically fit are you?
I have always been an active person. Because I was a dancer and active as a child that feeling of liking to move follows me through life. I went from dancing, to running and working out with weights. For many years I studied martial arts and yoga. I have been a hiker and kayaker. Currently I think I am above average in fitness for my age. I bike almost every day and I do yoga. I continue to hike and kayak in my own older person style. I do some kind of physical activity nearly every day.
Ambition or talent: What matters more to success?
Gosh both seem important, yet I think I will go with ambition if I must pick one. I think knowing where you want to go and desiring to move forward enhances success. I think talent can give you an edge but if you are not strong in your ability to show who you are you might miss being seen. In my own work I have always been a persistent and strong believer in the significance of dedication which I equate to ambition.
How politically committed are you?
I awoke to the political in my 20’s. When I was living and traveling outside the US, in Spain, my perspective first shifted. With new knowledge and a desire to break from what felt was a restrictive life, I became more political. After pulling myself away from a culture that I believed might ultimately harm me, I moved to and lived in a commune in Indiana. I was living an alternative life to what I had known in my childhood and school days. I lived in a van and moved around the US. When I came to Oregon, I was living a political life. I studied politics and took political action. One of the actions I most proud of was creating a food co-op. I started the co-op market with several other people. That co-op still is operating today. From my 20’s till now in many elections, I do political work. Currently I have strong feelings about US and global politics. I attend some political rallies. I feel most comfortable integrating my beliefs into smaller actions. I go to post-carding events and follow a couple favorite commentators. I attend to what I eat, buy and use and know what I do has impact. I believe my art is political as it is about women ageing and the environment. I am committed politically to my art and to the health and well-being of my world and the planet. I believe, most of the time, that what I do individually and with others makes a difference.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
Gosh, that question gave me pause. I am a low-end almost non-consumer, so nothing came to mind initially. Possibly because I use a bike for most of my transport needs, I might like to own a nicer bicycle. Or I would like to upgrade the devices I use to make art. A new iPhone or iPad would be dreamy.
What’s your biggest extravagance?
I don’t think I have an extravagance. I live a modest life financially. I spend a fair amount of my budget on supporting and producing my art. I pay for art grant applications and art exhibit submissions. I buy apps and reproduce my pieces before I consider other luxury items. Maybe I don’t have an extravagance.
In what places are you happiest?
I am most happy in the natural world or making art. I like to be in my yard, kayaking and hiking. I enjoy going up the local butte to watch the sunset. I use my iPhone there and integrate many of the captures in my “Portrait of a Woman” series as well as manipulating and using them for other series I produce. I love riding my bike. Currently the night-time rides are delicious. I like to be at the ocean making art. There is a bridge near my house that crosses the Willamette River, where I go for viewing the beautiful river. I am creating a series about the view from that bridge.
What ambitions do you still have?
Currently I have an ambition to increase my success with the art I produce. I want my art to support me financially. I hope the efforts I make in submitting and applying will bring return. I have an ambition to get my art out into the world in a bigger way. I would love to have it reproduced very large, such as a mural or billboard.
What drives you on?
Sometimes I wonder how I stay driven, yet I do. I share with other artists our daily experience. Those connections support my drive. I possess a drive to produce, it is just there. And I feel a drive to share. As I age these drives have intensified. I feel I have so much I want to produce and share.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
I think my greatest achievement is surviving. Several life experiences almost ended my life. When I consider the question, mentally I went through a few ideas and decided I feel it is an achievement to have lived through what almost ended my life. I am surprised this is my answer, but it is a gift to be alive and able to produce my art.
What do you find most irritating in other people?
I can feel disappointed in the lack of self-awareness of humans and I feel injured by mean-spirited behavior. I know that people probably are not trying to irritate me. I believe these behaviours contribute to the demise of humanity. Self-centredness can kill us as a species as well as the rest of the planet.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would she think?
I think she would be very surprised. I believe she thought she was going someplace quite different that where I ended up. She might think I am unlike her, yet I am the same person but very different.
Which object that you’ve lost do you wish you still had?
Oh, funny the object I thought of seems out of character from what I have written, but it is a feeling from the past. I had a raccoon coat I bought when I lived in Cincinnati. This was during my “60’s second-hand shopper” days. When I lived in Cincinnati it was a time before second hand was big business. I bought the raccoon coat in a giant second-hand warehouse. It was beautifully constructed with an embossed cloth interior and deep interior and exterior pockets. I loved how I felt in the coat. It was comfy, snug, warm and sleek. It was stolen at some point in my life. I believe it would be unpopular to own it these days. But I would wear around my house and maybe risk going out in it.
What is the greatest challenge of our time?
So many possibilities. I think it would be people accepting one another as we are and actively loving our planet. Again, I say we have opportunity to keep the planet alive if we choose. This I think is the greatest challenge.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
I do not know. I am thinking about this often as I age. With ageing as part of my art-making, it is a concept I integrate into my art. It does seem odd that there is not something more after living. I do wonder as I have had several recent deaths in my circle. Both my parents died in the last few years. My youngest sister died an untimely death just two years ago. I wonder about them now.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
I would give my life a 7. There are some things I might wish to have done differently. I realize some may say live with no regrets. That is not me. I look back and see I could have done things in another say if I had known how. Giving the number 7, I have some places to aspire. With that score maybe I will find ways to up it closer to 10.
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