By Zoe Fitch

The South holds a long history of both positive and negative happenings, and artists continue to investigate the past, present, and unforetold future today. “Place” allows for a state of being that invites investigation into one’s past and present as well as potential future for all. While this process is accessible in any place and the moments between, the American South is a region that promotes a slowed position that benefits artists’ work flow as well as socioeconomic factors.

Susan Mah was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and now calls Mississippi home. She is a psychotherapist and part of the staff at a San Jose, California community health clinic. Mah earned a scholarship to study Photography at L’Ecole Parsons in Paris, France and later received her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, California. She now holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology as well as two master’s degrees in clinical social work and fine arts with an emphasis in photography. As a psychotherapist and fine art photographer, Mah brings a unique and eclectic perspective to her work in both realms. 

Her father was an architect, and Mah’s siblings are both artists as well. Much of her upbringing and environments are undoubtedly influences in her fine art practice. Some would say it just runs in the family. She investigates states of being, changes of place, and obstacles to enlightenment. Mah’s images are both reflections of her life over the years as well as a record of society in various areas of the country even when the human figure is not present.

The through-line in her artistic process, research, and fine art is her goal to connect her interests in clinical social work and photography. She says that she aims to create imagery that is both “thought-provoking and purpose-driven”. There are aspects of art therapy as well as socio-political critiques and calls to action in her photography projects. Some of her past projects include Mah’s thesis on grief and loss landscapes, Memphis Faces that captured the many natural states of Memphians where Mah is from, The Lost Project which merged psychology and photography in an exploration of the human condition, and a small body of work titled “Viral: 25 Years” that was a contribution to a group project honoring the late Rodney King. 

Mah’s social justice photography explores interpersonal relationships as well as broad social aspects in modern American society. For example, she notes that in this day and age, in the United States, many believe that health care and other human rights are a privilege. Mah’s photography shines a light on individuals as well as specific marginalized groups. Sometimes just seeing another human being’s expression can make one consider their own privilege and perspective in society. 

Her current project is titled “This American Dystopia” and is a continuation of her research into social justice and her connection to photography. She states, “My inspirations for this series (This American Dystopia) of images are as follows: (1) The Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade in 2022; (2) reading Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” in 2019; (3) an assignment I had in 2013 while pursuing my MFA in fine art photography: “Take a photo of 300 years from now;” (4) the deleterious effects of Trumpism and capitalism. This body of work is a glimpse into the future, as I imagine it, as well as manifestations of that dystopia, which I see in present times. It is also a call to action with simple ideas of how to move forward”. Sixteen different American states are represented in this project.

Susan Mah has been interviewed by the Indie Publishing Group in 2017, Toofulltowrite (I’ve started so I’ll finish) in 2017, and others. Today Mah works as a certified social worker as well as a fine art photographer in Mississippi. She recalls living in California and being unable to afford the cost of living, but Mississippi accommodates the way of life and the means to afford working as a visual artist. Her work seamlessly marries both social justice dilemmas as well as fine art photography with its rawness. 

While Mississippi’s history holds dark aspects, its present has much work to do for the future. America’s social justice dilemma is ever present, but many are working to change this for the better. Susan Mah has connected her photography to her work in psychotherapy in order to shine a light on marginalized areas of society. And while change is arguably always on the horizon, Mah’s photography highlights her personal experiences, the people, and cultures of today from California to Mississippi to tomorrow.