Bittersweet on Bostwick Lane


Two towels, 2011

In this body of work I am coming to terms with loss. I have lost both my father and my mother, yet it's the suicide of my brother that seeps into my work like a slow forming stain, and has become a stand in for the others. My brother took his own life on his first visit home after severing his spinal cord in a motorcycle accident. What always comes to mind are the first few lines of his suicide note.

"I arrived home just about the time the honeysuckle blooms"

above: Bittersweet on Bostwick Lane, 2011; below: Mom and Russ, 2012

Russell was not the sort of person to notice flowers, so I find it really beautiful, and achingly sad at how poetic it was for him to stop and see the beauty around him if only because he knew it would be for the last time.

The last person to see my brother alive was my oldest neighbor, Margaret Daniel. It is fitting that she has now become my subject and the strongest thread throughout my work. The first time we sat together to make a portrait, she told me the story of Russell's last day.

The Last Jar of Crabapple Jelly That Harrison Ate from Before He Died, 2013

"I made your brother my home made bread, his favorite... I buttered a slice and took it up to him, and he called down, Margaret can I have some more of that bread? He finished the whole loaf, and then me and your mother went for a walk down the lane and when we came back he had shot himself."

Margaret gracefully weaves stories of buttering my brother's last slice of bread with memories of me as a young girl, wanting to eat her homemade strawberry jelly on my new white bedspread. She laughs as she recalls finding me with fruit all over the bed. Blood and jelly, two very different stains. I thread these stories together, of pain and loss and of the sweetness of childhood memories.

Margaret's Picture of Pneumonia, 2010

Hearse in My Childhood Driveway, 2009

My memories become intertwined with hers, and together we've created a family album of what was once the intangible landscape of my childhood. The work encircles itself as our conversations about native flowers, life and death become the seeds of my photographs. Each time I visit Margaret I enter through the kitchen door, and each time she has a new story to tell which enriches my work like a complex broth. The kitchen and the yard are where we do our fieldwork, as we pick fruit and remove the rotten parts to make a more palatable jelly. This process has become a sort of poetry for me, as I document her showing me how to strain the last remnants of sweetness and color from crabapples, using bandages to catch the pink-stained juice. 

top: Black Walnut Bride, 2010; center: Walnut Walkway, 2013; bottom: Two Snakes, 2013

Susan Worsham grew up in Richmond, Virginia. Her photographs are both poetic and deeply personal, drawing inspiration in equal parts from the artist’s memories of family, from the Southern landscape, and from the commingled confusion of sadness and beauty. Named one of the Oxford American’s “New Superstars of Southern Art,” her work has been widely exhibited in the United States, as well as internationally, and is held in private and public collections including the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and the Do Good Fund Southern Photography Initiative. In 2015 she received both a Lensculture Emerging Talent Award, and a Lensculture Portrait Award. She has been an artist-in-residence at Light Work in Syracuse, New York, where her work was published in Contact Sheet 168: Bittersweet/Bloodwork, as well as a recipient of The Franz and Virginia Bader Fund. She was recently nominated for the 2016 Baum Award for an Emerging American Photographer, one of the largest national awards among the grants and fellowships available in photography.