Dissecting Identities with photographer Susana Rabb

A woman donning pink gloves and barefeet waves from the hood of a convertible cruising down a city street. A boy leans forward to greet a small dog, confined by chain-link fences to a small patch of dirt. A pajama clad family stands, arms crossed, outside their apartment complex dressed with uninviting black iron bars over each window.

These are just a few of the moments photographer Susana Raab managed to seize for her most recent body of work, The Invisible Wall. A long time resident of Washington DC, Susana Raab has been documenting the historically segregated area east of the Anacostia River for years. Through her series, she aims to shine a light on the oft overlooked neighborhood that many of the city’s most marginalized call home. Easily, the work could have taken a dark turn – the 2016 Census revealed that poverty rates east of the river are three times higher than the rest of the city.

Yet Susana Raab takes a somewhat different approach. The artist has a distinct talent for recognizing the opportune moment. While she doesn’t brush over hardships, she takes the effort to examine her subjects from every angle possible. For every defunct library kiosk, there’s a crowd clamouring to pose for a selfie. Joy holds as much weight as despair, through her lens.

The Invisible Wall hardly scratches the surface of Susana Raab’s archive. A seasoned photographer, she’s traveled across the United States and Peru, attending events ranging from local fairs and niche festivals to inaugurations and protests. Aside from working as a documentarian and a fine artist, she’s employed as a photographer at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum. She’s had her images exhibited internationally at esteemed museums and small galleries alike. Institutions such as the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History keep her photographs archived in their files.

susana raab

Nearly 15 years ago, Susana Raab embarked on one of her first fully realized series, Consumed. Though the project aimed to examine the absurdity of American mass-marketing in the fast food industry, the work shows glimmers of the deeply humanizing work she’d ultimately go on to make further down the road. American Idle, a project focused on fun as a transaction and the emergence of excess leisure time, hits many of the same notes as its predecessor. Yet, the work marks a shift. Her interest turns increasingly away from environments in favor of the individuals navigating through them.

susana raab

susana raab

Over time, she’s gotten to know migrants, protesters, WWII reenactors. Complete strangers have revealed their innermost loves and fears to Susana Raab, as seen in the LOVES&FEARSPROJECT. Even small towns forgotten by time hold photographic promise for the ambitious artist

Undoubtedly, the sincerity of the portraiture that she’s made throughout the duration of her career has played into her long-term success. In the statement pared with her series Precious Stranger, she describes a period of time in which she was struggling with her identity as “la cholita gringa”. Perhaps not fitting neatly into a box has molded her into a natural observer, capable of recognizing the opportune moment to snap her shutter. Conversely, her split sense of self has perhaps worked to her advantage in building connections with her varied subjects. Bringing together people of all ages, colors, ethnicities, she weaves together seemingly disparate parts to make seamless stories, flowing gracefully into one another.

All photos are courtesy of Susana Raab