Twenty-six years ago I exhibited my first work of photography in a joint exhibition with Marilyn Suriani.  Our work was woven from the same patchwork cloth of people on the fringes of society. We leaned on each other and protected each other from the emotional entanglements necessary to enter into other people’s lives.

The resulting exhibit, Living Our Real Lives, featured images of the homeless, exotic dancers, punks and people who, through faith or fate, were considered different. We followed each other into some of the same spaces to find the people that inhabited our images and mirrored each other in our goals as artists.

In ways that are both subtle and profound, Marilyn has evolved in her artistic vision over the past two and a half decades. I have watched in awe as her artistic path has followed divergent trails into both the highest levels of fine art creation and the most harrowing passages of human struggle. The conflict in these two directions has enhanced the work in both: one path allowing beauty to sustain the grit in the other.

She has also followed an interior path, visually and intellectually examining the most intimate secrets of her own life in a series of stunning collaged images that lay bare the effects of age and health on our bodies and minds.

Marilyn’s work over the past decades has branched like a tree of life. She has strayed from the human to the natural world and back, weaving in and out of genres as she searches for beauty in the reflecting waters of her backyard, the closed world of women in prison or the graceful slope of a woman’s head in prayer.

Her portrait of Congressman and civil rights hero John Lewis defined the power of both roles in the dignity reflected in his iconic pose while her portrait of Rolling Stones’ musician Chuck Leavell almost sang his lyrical life and spirit.

Photography is a language of composition and nuance where light and shadow form the literature of sight. We read stories into the images we see and Marilyn has become a master storyteller with her camera. Her images hold the weight of plot and narrative as they reveal quiet truths about the lives of her subjects and we discover our own truths about our capacity to care when confronted with the blunt honesty in her art.

The world in our time is defined by chaos, but within the formalized frame of a viewfinder, Marilyn finds ways to encapsulate and tame moments with the quickness of light and the snap of a shutter.

In a heartbeat she freezes time, telling us in the swirling colors of a simple lake what it means to be alive in this complex and confusing time.

Marilyn will be teaching a class on photography and the art of mixed media at the Serenbe Photography Center as a part of Atlanta Celebrates Photography. For more of her work click on this link: http://www.surianiphoto.com/

And for information on the Serenbe Photography Center, go here: http://serenbephotographycenter.com/

all photographs © Marilyn Suriani 2010

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Billy Howard

Billy Howard

Billy Howard is a commercial and documentary photographer with an emphasis on education and global health.

6 Comments
  1. Thank you for sharing your friend with us. I worry a little about how the art of photography will be affected by the electronic rendition of our world. The world in black and white is very different from the world of the rainbow.

  2. I love Marilyn as a person and her work. I knew her when she was working on Dancing in the Dark and it was my first and only time I ventured into a strip club. You never forget a person who introduces you to something like that. I am so happy you showcased her in this medium . It gives me the opportunity to find and enjoy her work again. Please tell her I send my best and am oh so proud of her.

  3. Billy: I love Marilyn’s pictures, and the portrait of John Lewis is one of the best I’ve seen of him. I also think Like the Dew could be really improved by running many more pictures of people — any people — playing accordions. As you probably know, my only rule in life is to always give money to street accordion players. (It’s a philosophy that has served me well, with the possible exception of that time that one accordion player followed Chrys and me around Paris for a week.) But the shocking news here is that Marilyn and your original joint exhibition was 26 years ago. Twenty-six years? I remember the pictures but now realize what amazing child prodigies both of you were at that time. No surprise that your work gets better and better.

    1. Keith,
      I know I have never been called a child prodigy, especially post prodigy era, have you, Billy, ever been called a child prodigy?????

      Thanks, Keith, for your words. I agree with the people photos idea for this publication. Visuals are good. I will certainly be giving Billy a good turn here in this publication, and I have a few stories too. More to be revealed next month.

  4. Terri Evans

    Of course, as you have demonstrated here, Marilyn’s talent is — okay, you’ve already said it better than I ever could. I marvel at your journalistic restraint! It must have darned difficult to avoid writing that she also has a heart and mind is big and full and delightful as her images. Really, really glad that you shared this piece.

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