Susan Lipper is an American photographer. The majority of her work has involved travelling around America to record the events that can occur in the rural areas, playing on the trope of the documentary travel photography and the cross-country travelling that frequently occurs in American photography. Much of her work has centred around the small area of Grapevine Hollow in the Appalachians, where she initially took a series of images of the houses and the people between 1988 and 1992. The images are black and white, sparse and do not glamorise the area. She clearly had a good relationship with the people although I suspect outsiders are rarely welcome. She returned to Grapevine between 2006 and 2011 to make a further series Off Route 80 (Lipper, s.d.). In contrast these images show the countryside, still in black and white. They remind me of the images by Robert Adams in An Old Forest Road (Adams, 2017). Few show any traces of life other than rough tracks. One shows a motorway (freeway) bridge – presumably the eponymous Route 80. Between the two series she tells the story of a place that is, to an extent, left behind. The cover image for the book Grapevine (Lipper, 1994) shows a deer, hung from a baseball hoop, with cars and a house in the background. Another image shows a smiling girl with her Halloween pumpkin, yet another a snake on a bed. According to O’Hagan (O’Hagan, 2010), while her characters are real, the scenarios may often be staged. It tells about the poverty and the background of alcohol and violence that this both causes and contributes to. There is a tension in the images, anything could happen. In the book Lipper also records some of the conversations she had with the people, a narrative to give depth to the story. When talking about the later images she describes then as ‘Nature viewed as lush and enveloping—almost biblical, a found Eden. However also lawless, scary and threatening.’ (Williams, 2009).
Bed and Breakfast (Lipper and Chandler, 2000) is a very different series, it is in colour, it is much gentler on the surface. The book was made as a commission by Photoworks in response to the George Garland Collection of photographs of rural England. The images seem old fashioned and out of place for the time (1998) and place (West Sussex). Some remind me of B & B’s I have stayed at, the folded towel, the kettle. Others are somewhat disturbing; the picture of the groping hands on the wall, sex scratched on the bathroom door, the terrifying landlady. This is a place I grew up in, a time I have lived though, but I find it surprisingly difficult to recognise. As Chandler notes in his introduction to the book ‘Lipper’s account of West Sussex is a purely subjective one, it is her response to a particular formation of English country life. Others will inevitably see things differently’. I am one of those who remember it differently.
Adams, R. (2017) An old forest road. Exhibition. Köln: Walter Konig.
Lipper, S. (1994) Grapevine. Manchester: Cornerhouse.
Lipper, S. (s.d.) Off Route 80. At: https://www.susanlipper.com/or.html (Accessed 15/07/2020).
Lipper, S. and Chandler, D. (2000) Bed and breakfast. Maidstone: Photoworks.
O’Hagan, S. (2010) ‘Myth, Manners and Memory: Photographers of the American South | Photography review’ In: The Observer 02/10/2010 At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/oct/03/myth-manners-and-memory-review (Accessed 15/07/2020).
Williams, V. (2009) ‘Susan Lipper, Collisions of Experience’ In: Photoworks May 2009 (12) pp.56–57. At: https://www.susanlipper.com/text_gv_williams.html (Accessed 15/07/2020).