Portrait photographer Susan Child takes her subjects out of their comfort zones

Coloured chalk adds drama to this portrait of Sophie, a local tattoo artist

Coloured chalk adds drama to this portrait of Sophie, a local tattoo artist - Credit: Archant

Susan Child specialises in portraits of children – just don’t expect them to be happy snaps

Susan smiles for the camera

Susan smiles for the camera - Credit: Archant

Susan Child doesn’t do smiley faces. This is a surprise because conversations with the Kendal photographer are punctuated by gales of laughter.

Cousins in a pram

Cousins in a pram - Credit: Archant

It’s especially surprising because she specialises in children’s portraits. ‘It’s an area of photography that can be seen as superficial,’ she says. ‘But I always try to dig a little deeper because I always think there is more to people than meets the eye.’

The results are striking poses that can stop you in your tracks, making you feel there’s a back story that you can only speculate about.

‘I try to draw them out, to gain their trust so they almost don’t realise they are having their picture taken. It takes time, it’s not a quick process but I think the results make it worthwhile.’

Certainly the owners of Lancaster’s Chop House agreed – they’ve recently exhibition a collection of her images and Susan is hoping to stage more around the region in the coming months

‘I exhibited 15 photographs that try to show the inner self. It’s true that I don’t do smiley portraits. Everyone has a story and I try to show that. The final pictures often have a serious edge. I hope people realise my work is a little bit different and I accept they won’t be to everyone’s taste.’

Most Read

As well as portraits, Susan also takes commercial commissions. She transformed a potentially mundane shoot for a local marshmallow company into something akin to a scene from Alice in Wonderland.

But it’s the portraits that Susan, who grew up in Sedbergh and Kirkby Lonsdale, really enjoys. She believes everyone has a ‘photo face’, an expression they adopt whenever a camera appears. This mask can be particularly stubborn to shift – even with her husband, Jez, who has a contract cleaning company.

‘I sometimes have to take people out of their comfort zone to get the picture I want,’ says Susan, flicking to picture of Jeez on her tablet. It could almost be a still from something dark like the BBC2 series League of Gentlemen.

Jez, wearing a smart suit and a serious expression, has his face made up with a smiley, if slightly sinister, clown’s mask. It’s a good illustration of what she means but Susan quickly adds with a laugh: ‘Don’t put that one in the magazine – he’d kill me! It shows how I like to put a twist on things, show another side of a person.’

While Jez may be a challenging subject for a portrait, Susan has a houseful of attractive models. She has four children, Lucy, Murray, Clarice and Dudley and between them they have a challenging set of problems ranging from an auto-immune system disease called scleroderma to type one diabetes and autism.

‘I originally trained as a hairdresser and worked in the business for a number of years,’ she says. ‘When I had a family and they had so many problems I had to give it up. I went to Kendal College to study photography as an outlet and I’ve been a professional photographer for two years.

‘I felt the need to take time out from home life and find a channel for my creative energy – I’ve always been interested in art, design and fashion – and I found photography to be therapeutic.’

You can see more of Susan’s work at www.susanchildphotography.co.uk