Q & A: Beate Sass

Beate Sass was born in Boston, Massachusetts but has lived in Minnesota, Chile, and Geneva. She spent her formative years in Albuquerque, New Mexico and identifies strongly with the Southwest. Her work is greatly influenced by the light, the landscape, and the culture of New Mexico. Sass was chosen by Executive Director of Atlanta Celebrates Photography (ACP) Amy Miller to exhibit two of her photographs in the central atrium of the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, as part of this year's Airport Show.

When did you discover photography, and what events lead to this discovery? 

Before I became a physical therapist, I received a Bachelor’s of Music in Cello Performance. Music and the arts were always an integral part of my life growing up and into my late twenties. Once I became established in my second career, my interest in playing waned. By the time I was pregnant with my second child I had stopped playing altogether. It wasn’t until my mid forties that I began to miss the creative process. When my point and shoot film camera expired, my husband cajoled me into buying a digital camera. The first time I printed one of my images on our desktop printer I was amazed at the clarity and color of the photograph. That was the turning point for me and I have been hooked on photographing ever since. 

How do you know when a project is finished? 

I sense I have completed a project when I feel that I don’t have anything more to convey. Also, I continue to photograph until I believe that I have accumulated a collection of strong images. The difficulty lies in that I am rarely satisfied with my current work for long and am always striving to create more compelling images.

What memorable responses have you had to your work?

I completed a two-year project entitled Real Stories, Real People earlier this year. The project consisted of photo essays about individuals living with a developmental disability and their caregivers. I recently exhibited that project at the Decatur Arts Alliance Gallery. Several people whom I did not know came up to me the evening of the reception and told me that the stories and photos had moved them to tears. That has been the greatest compliment I have had as it relates to my photography. As an artist, I strive to create an impact at some level. If I am able to achieve an emotional response from a viewer I feel that I have been successful with my craft.

What is it about the South that fascinates you the most? What is the thing that continues to surprise you?

I moved to Atlanta five years ago. As a transplant the discovery that has been most surprising to me is probably of no surprise to most natives. Because I live in the city and have spent much of my time photographing on the streets and at festivals in various parts of Atlanta, I have been surprised by the divide that continues to exist between the white and African American citizens of Atlanta. It was not evident to me at first. It hit home one evening when I was editing my images from a couple of different events that I had attended, and I realized that I was either one of only a few white individuals present or my images contained mostly white people and few or no African Americans. Certainly there are places I go where I see people of varying ethnicities interacting, but I still see an absence of integration as a whole.

The thing I love about Atlanta is that people on the streets are very friendly and almost always willing to collaborate with me to create a picture if asked. They are warm, interested in what I do as a photographer, and enthusiastic about sharing their stories. This is especially true amongst the African Americans I meet. White people tend to be more closed and suspicious of me. I am not passing judgment. This is only my observation and experience. 

Whose work are you influenced by?

I have loved the work of Georgia O’Keeffe since I was in my early teens. When I started photographing I had O’Keeffe’s paintings of landscapes and flowers in my mind. In my photographs I isolated my subjects, kept my borders clean and tried to find interesting ways to transform a flower or whatever I was photographing into something more abstract. Interestingly enough I started out photographing in black and white and O’Keeffe was all about color. But then I was living in Tallahassee, Florida where everything was green and to me monochromatic. Presently, I continue to be inspired by the many talented photographers I associate with at APG and the art that is exhibited in our community.

What's the last great book you read?

I recently finished reading The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks, by Terry Tempest Williams. I was captivated by the poetry and beauty of her words as well as her passion to preserve and cherish our wilderness areas.

Where can people see more of your work?

A sample of my current work is on my photo blog. I try to post an image and short blurb about my experience at least twice a month. And there is my personal website and the site for Real Stories, Real People