When Portland, Oregon-based travel photographer Susan Seubert was contacted by Smithsonian Magazine regarding a shoot at their museum in D.C., she wasn’t sure what to expect. Smithsonian was interested in her wet-plate collodion work; the first time anyone had ever commissioned work from her based on her fine art portfolio.
Susan quickly found out, as she was flown to D.C. for a week to shoot for the magazine’s special edition issue: 101 Objects that Made America, with different segments focusing on various influential times and events in history. She was in the company of seven other photographers including Dan Winters, David Burnett, Albert Watson and WM’s Cade Martin, who shot the cover.
Susan’s segment is entitled “America in the World,” and includes objects that span five centuries, all having to do with America as it relates to the world. Using these objects, Susan produced a series of wet-plate collodion images. Because all of the objects had to be handled by their respective curators, the scheduling was the most difficult part for Susan and her photo editor. However, Susan thoroughly enjoyed the experience:
“It was incredible to see and spend time with all of these different objects and have an opportunity to talk with all of the various curators and preparators. The panda was probably the most challenging, as we had to work on one of those insanely hot, humid D.C. days – even the panda went into her little air-conditioned enclosure as soon as she finished her bamboo breakfast. The 9/11 stairwell sign gave me the most pause. It’s incredible – the power an object can possess. How we photographed each thing was dependent upon how the curator wanted it handled. I worked closely with my photo editor as well, to be sure that each picture revealed something particular about the object.”
The Giant Panda, symbolizing China’s “inner circle” of countries.
The oldest object was a Novus Orbis map from 1532, based on tales from Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci, while the youngest object was the World Trade Center stairwell sign pictured above, which was taken from the dump and donated to the museum.
Susan was astonished when seeing the final product, and came away with an experience that she will never forget.