Susan Wides - Photographer | Visual Artist

About the Artist
Essays | Reviews

Susan Wides' work has been exhibited widely throughout the U.S. and Europe. The artist's solo exhibitions include a recent mid-career survey at The Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY; The Center for Creative Photography, AZ; The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, New Paltz; and Urbi et Orbi Galerie, Paris. Group exhibitions include the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The High Museum of Art, and The Municipal Art Society, New York. Work by the artist is held in many public collections, including The International Center of Photography, NY; The Brooklyn Museum, NY; The Art Museum of Princeton University, NJ; La Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, FR; The Center for Creative Photography, AZ; The Norton Museum of Art, FL; Frances Lehman Loeb Art Museum, NY and the Museum of The City of New York. Her work appears in numerous anthologies including 'New York in Color' and 'A Photographer's City.' Wides' work has been featured in Artforum, Art in America, Art News, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Village Voice, Le Monde, Harper's and New York, among others. Her exhibition catalogs, including Hudson Valley, a 100-page book published by The Hudson River Museum, I, Manahatta, Fresh Kills and The Name of And, are available through Kim Foster Gallery, who has represented the artist for over a decade. Wides is also the Director and Curator of 'T' Space, a non-profit exhibition space dedicated to the fusion of art, poetry and music, which is embedded in natural phenomena in the Hudson Valley.


The photographs of Susan Wides convey the experience of not merely being in a place, but of connecting to that place on many levels of consciousness. Wides' photographs rely deeply on light, space and time in order to dissolve, intensify and filter our visualization of a place. Merleau-Ponty writes of Cêzanne's struggle to paint “an object in the act of appearing, organizing itself before our eyes.” Cêzanne “did not think he had to choose between feeling and thought, as if he were deciding between chaos and order.” The subtle complexity of Wides' images fuse feeling and thought, requiring us to slow down and contemplate where we are, and thus the very "why" and "how" of our being.

From early childhood, Susan Wides was inspired to become an artist by her three great aunts in Manhattan — early 20th century artists and feminists within her matriarchy who established a core that has sustained her dedication independent artistic thought and feminism throughout her life and artistic career. Painting and photographing outdoors in the 60s and 70s, Wides established a fascination with fieldwork that became crucial to her photographic method.

In 1977, Wides studied art at Indiana University with a protégée of Moholy Nagy, Henry Holmes Smith, a mentor to Wides and a living window onto modernist art history. At this time, Wides was awarded the position of photographer at the Indiana University Museum, restoring a collection of Native American photographs. In 1979, Wides moved to New York City and worked at The Metropolitan Museum of Art printing photographs of artworks in its collection. These positions continued Wides’s formative experiences of looking deeply at art and artifacts within a museum context. In New York, Wides lived downtown, and became part of the currents of experimental blurring of artistic distinctions, conceptual art and social critique of this period. This stimulation encouraged Wides to consider conceptual art, social sciences, philosophy, and hallucinogenic perception as entry points into her photographic methods.

Wides’s relationships with artists in New York and her role as a museum photographer led to an interest in the intersection of experimental practices within institutional settings that would result in her 'Waxworld' series (1983-1990), a response to the fictions of the Reagan years. 'Waxworld' used the question of where reality ends and illusion begins — a given subject of the waxwork displays—as a starting point for exploring a wide range of human interaction within both public and private spheres. Wides revised the wax museum displays to create new visual artifacts with filmic lighting, selective focus and multiple exposures. Wides photographed in wax museums throughout North America and Europe. In 1988, Steve Dietz of Aperture collaborated with Wides in the editing and sequencing of a book of 'Waxworld.'

Wides’s first solo show of 'Waxworld' took place in Paris in 1990 at Gilles Dusein’s Urbi et Orbi Galerie, contextualized with gallery artists Hiroshi Sugimoto, Barbara Kasten, and James Casebere. Following, Olivier Zahm curated 'Sphinx' with Wides, Thomas Ruff and Bill Henson, in Nice, FR, in 1992. 'Fictive Strategies: Actuality and Originality' featured Wides alongside Lucas Samaras, Sarah Charlesworth, John Baldessari, Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, and Louise Lawler.

In 1992, Wides began her second museum series, titled 'The Name of And,' in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, partly in response to losing friends who had passed away from AIDS. Reading this culturally fabricated language of flowers, Wides surrounded the oval images in black and used selective focus to reclaim the flower as an expression of transience, loss and desire. Mia Fineman wrote an essay for Julie Saul Gallery’s show 'Foreign Ferns: Botanical Studies from Talbot to the Present' in 1993: “The interconnections between nature, culture and cultivation are taken up by Susan Wides in her lush images of roses…Wides juxtaposed soft-focus, abstracted close-ups of roses with their classificatory labels, inscribed with evocative names such as 'Playgirl,'' Lady Reading,' 'Chasin' Rainbows,' and 'New Dawn.'”

Both of these projects were featured at the High Museum’s 'Museum Studies' show in 1997 alongside Candida Höfer, Thomas Struth, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Fred Wilson et al. While critiquing and questioning the museum, the artists regarded these places with fascination and affection, a viewpoint Wides shared. In 2000, 'The Name of And' was exhibited in 'After Eden, Garden Varieties in Contemporary Art,' a show at Middlebury College alongside Joseph Beuys, Peter Campus, Andy Goldsworthy, Dan Graham, Jenny Holzer and Kerry James Marshall.

In the mid-90s, Wides shifted away from the museum and culturally loaded views to work more directly in nature and the city. With a 4 x 5-inch view camera, Wides deepened her experiments with the language of the lens by twisting a movable lens, thereby distorting the camera’s plane of focus to create abstracted images, each with zones of sharp focus. As Wides intensified her innovative use of selective focus, she conveyed a sense of perceptual absorption — visible emanations from the myopic eye of the mind. The work reverberated the mobile shifting of attention, the way our eye darts seamlessly from one detail to the next. 'Mobile Views' was shown first in 1998 at Kim Foster Gallery; these photographs influenced photographers in what would later be coined the digital “tilt-shift,” from the mid-2000s on.

In 2000, Fresh Kills followed and used the same methodology as the 'Mobile Views' series. In Fresh Kills, Wides documents the epic landscapes made at New York City’s infamous Fresh Kills landfill site on Staten Island, the locus of all that is discarded by the city. This series explores how detritus turns into landscape as we excessively consume, while laying bare, again, questions of reality versus invention.

'Mobile Views' included the first images in the following two series 'I, Mannahatta' and 'I, Kaaterskill' (1997 – 2013). In both series, Wides’s lens explored nuances in the perceptual in our daily lives. At a time when the virtual may seem to rival the real, Wides locates the poignancy of the desire “to be in our environment, in the heart of the multitude…in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite,” as Baudelaire said about the flâneur. Wides adopts a transformative vision, expressing her intuitive, critical and conceptual responses to our landscape and social environment. Her lens blends her subjects with their surroundings, expressing the interconnectivity of subject and subjectivity, as well as space itself.

'I, Mannahatta' documents Wides’s perception of place at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st: from the era of Guiliani’s building boom, the largest in the history of the city at that time, the crushing reality of the city in the throes of post-9/11 and recession, to the homogenizing, touristic luxury transformations in the Bloomberg years. Both projects depict human constructions and human figures interacting with the social, economic, and natural topographical layers of a landscape with complicated and dynamic histories.

'I, Kaaterskill' weaves a dialogue between today’s Hudson Valley and its history — the young America imagined by 19th century Hudson River School painters and thinkers. The series depicts Kaaterskill Falls at the end of empire when nature seems not grand and wild but tremendously degraded and, as expressed through manipulations of Wides’s camera, fragile and very diminished. At the Samuel Dorsky Museum, she paired her large photographs with small reproductions of the Hudson River School paintings, many of the same sites, which are also affixed to the back of her framed prints.

In 2012, 'I, Mannahatta' and 'I, Kaaterskill' were featured in Wides’s survey at the Hudson River Museum. The show was accompanied by an 100-page catalogue. The exhibition also included her photographs commissioned by the museum exploring Westchester’s suburban areas, a hinge between Wides’s urban and rural work. In these photographs, dialogues between mind and matter, reality and myth, and representation and abstraction are present, as in Wides’s eariier work.

Susan Wides’s new work, 'this—seasons,' expands on the nature of sensory experience and its relation to the natural world. 'this—seasons' proposes a renewal of vision—one that emphasizes being out-in-the-world over being captive to a device. Wides’s innovative lenswork is an experimental adjustment of a living organism, the eye, to its surroundings, and it makes manifest our imperiled relationship with the natural world. 'this—seasons' considers how life does not merely go on in an environment, but because of it, through active interaction. At Steven Holl’s ‘T’ Space, this work was in union with the light, space and inside/outside dialogue of the gallery’s architecture.

Since 2010, Wides has served as the Director and Curator of ‘T’ Space. ‘T’ Space’s mission is the cross-inspiration of visual art, poetry, music and architecture in union with our deep connection with the natural landscape. Wides is fortunate to be able to work with artists who continue to inspire her practice, including Ai Weiwei, Terry Winters, Polly Apfelbaum, Carolee Schneemann, Richard Artschwager, Martin Puryear, Richard Tuttle, and Mei-mei Berssenbrugge.