ART BEAT – OOE Artist Feature: Susan Bahen – Seeing The Beauty On Our Streets

Tanis Browning-Shelp

Street photographer Susan Bahen captures the beauty of Old Ottawa East (OOE), even in the most unlikely of subjects.

A different perspective of a common view. Red against the winter blue sky, Isabella Pizza with its angles and icicles caught photographer Susan Bahen’s beauty-seeking eye. It pays to take a closer look at unexpected subjects. Photo by Susan Bahen

A different perspective of a common view. Red against the winter blue sky, Isabella Pizza with its angles and icicles caught photographer Susan Bahen’s beauty-seeking eye. It pays to take a closer look at unexpected subjects. Photo by Susan Bahen

Bahen first became interested in photography while playing with the dials of her dad’s Minolta film camera back when she was a kid. “I was very inspired by our many boxes of family photos,” she says. “I grew up in the era of record album cover art, National Geographic magazine, and design magazines. Even though I only had a ‘point and shoot’ pocket camera, I wanted to take photography classes when I was at Earl of March high school in Kanata. They had a great arts program! Unfortunately, photography did not fit into my math and science-heavy academic timetable. I planned to go into engineering, then business, and finally ended up getting my Bachelor of Arts in Law.”

It would be a while, yet, before Bahen could fully embrace the artform. “When our kids were young, I photographed them all the time. I signed up for several local photography classes during that period, but they were always cancelled for lack of enrolment. Photography is an expensive pursuit for a single-income family raising kids.”

Known more for its utility than for its beauty, the Hydro building at Main and Riverdale’s patinaed windows are delicately framed by some wispy pine branches. Bahen likes to find beauty in the mundane and explore the details. Photo by Susan Bahen

Known more for its utility than for its beauty, the Hydro building at Main and Riverdale’s patinaed windows are delicately framed by some wispy pine branches. Bahen likes to find beauty in the mundane and explore the details. Photo by Susan Bahen

In 2013, Bahen’s family moved into OOE. As Bahen adjusted to her new neighbourhood, she simultaneously found an online global community. “It was a women’s photography network called Click Community,” she says. “This was the start of me becoming serious about photography.”

Through Click Community, Bahen began taking classes. “I learned the mechanics of photography and studied all the genres—everything from portrait to landscape photography. I also learned from other members of the network. Getting and giving feedback is a crucial aspect of the Click Community. Their mentors provide critiques and encouragement and write tutorials. They do this constructively, talking about the elements they love in your work and if something isn’t working, identifying why (the composition may be off balance or there may be issues with lighting, for example).”

Bahen loves to walk around OOE and throughout our nearby neighbourhoods “seeing things…being aware…paying attention.” Sometimes, she has her golden retriever George with her.

“Once you’ve mastered the technical aspects of photography, seeing is everything,” she says. “It becomes intuitive. It is how you see the world.”

“I love street photography, which is a genre that records everyday life in public places. After the severe storm we had in May, I could have captured the tragedies and the suffering. That, of course, is important work. But I do this for the joy of it. I like to find beauty where beauty does not seem to exist. Some people say that it is like creating ‘found still life.’ As a street photographer, I am eclectic but local. I like both urban and natural scenes.”

Bahen points out that many photographers like the golden light of day. But that is not Bahen’s time to photograph. “Mine is during business hours,” she says. “I also like to photograph when it is rainy or foggy. I am interested in capturing mood and atmosphere in my work—getting emotion into images without people. Grungy alleyways have stories to tell!”

Susan Bahen loves to photograph the flowers along Echo Drive, especially the lilacs that grace the neigbourhood in the spring.  Photo by Susan Bahen

Susan Bahen loves to photograph the flowers along Echo Drive, especially the lilacs that grace the neigbourhood in the spring. Photo by Susan Bahen

Bahen’s images have been featured in Click Magazine and in the VOICE Image Competition. Several of the pieces featured were shot in Ottawa neighbourhoods. In 2017, she became a Click Community Mentor. “I am doing this out of love,” she says. “Click Community taught me everything I know, and photography is now my passion. I felt very strongly that I wanted to give back to the community that mentored me.” Last summer, Bahen created a self-guided class and e-book teaching photographers how to find and appreciate the beauty that is around them. “I think I ‘fell into photography’ at exactly the right time. Photography has helped me find my new work-life balance. And I now have dear friends all over the world that I’ve travelled to visit. These friendships go beyond photography.”

Glebe parking garage. Lines, shapes and repetition are elements that Susan Bahen often seeks in her work. Photo by Susan Bahen

Glebe parking garage. Lines, shapes and repetition are elements that Susan Bahen often seeks in her work. Photo by Susan Bahen

Bahen will be exhibiting a collection of her photographs as part of the 2022 OOE Art Tour on September 10. “It is such an honour to be a part of this great event in a community setting. There is so much talent in OOE! Although I do show my photography through my network and on social media, I am quite shy about sharing my work. But I do believe that it is important, as artists, to share. Not for personal gratification, but because it makes for a better world.” In the photo captions, Bahen shares the stories behind the photographs we selected for this story. To see more of Bahen’s work, go to https://susanbahenphotography.com/.

Author Tanis Browning-Shelp (http://www.browning-shelp.com) pens her Maryn O’Brien Young Adult Fiction series, published by Dog-Eared Books, from her home in Old Ottawa East. Contact tanis@browning-shelp.com if you have information about artists or art events that you believe would enrich our community members’ lives.

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