Susan Mikula is an American artist and photographer. She is the partner of television host, political commentator and author, Rachel Maddow. Mikula spent a major part of her life working as an accountant while her art was exhibited as part of group shows. She also served as an art jury in various competitions before landing her first solo exhibition in 1998. Beginning her photography career in 2007, she slowly developed a unique style with vintage Polaroid cameras and instant films. She prefers to take photos only with the available light and does not employ cropping or any such image manipulation techniques.
Considered to be complex, beautiful, and ambiguous by the critics, her works have been published as collections of landscape photography.
Susan Mikula did not receive any formal education in photography, having taught herself the mechanics of her chosen medium. This allowed her aesthetic sensibilities to develop without the constraints of the orthodox thinking that often hinders an artist’s process. It has empowered her art, taken the familiarity out of its subjects and made it something absurd and strange. Her background as an accountant serves an important role in her creativity. As in mathematics, her camera seeks to bare everything down to their very essence.
Her use of old Polaroid cameras, with all their unpredictability and expired films, is central to her method. Each of her photographs testifies to an intuitive mind behind the camera. Before each shoot, she examines every camera and every film to find the perfect combination for the specific project. After taking a shot without the aid of artificial lights and never applying any changes, she scans and reproduces the Polaroid print.
Mikula considers the printing, mounting, and installation of her works as pivotal to the process as the photographs themselves. For her 2006 project, ‘9 Portraits,’ she used nine-foot panels of industrial mesh as the printing surface for her Polaroids. The panels were then hung from the ceiling of the 4-H Exhibition Hall at the Northampton Fairgrounds.
In 2008, she released her first book ‘Susan Mikula: Photographs.’ She has also published American Breakbulk #13 and #21, American Device #49, and American Vale #17, the collections of her works that make up the expanded series on the abandoned industrial sites across the country, called American Bond. Inspired by the cave paintings in France and by the small plastic toys that she and her sister used in their childhood games, her newest series, ‘u.X,’ is a candid and melancholic tribute to the past and all its mysteries.
Since she began her career as a photographer, her work has been displayed both in solo and group exhibitions in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Miami. In 2017, Mikula was hired by the Art in Embassies program to do site-specific works for the U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.
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Born in 1958, in New Jersey, USA, Mikula was raised in the urban, industrialized part of the city. Later, she and her family relocated to a small town in New Hampshire. Having grown up artistically inclined, she completed courses in colour theory at the Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts.
She and Maddow met in 1999. Maddow, who was doing her doctoral dissertation at the time, was hired by Mikula to work on her yard. Maddow later called the meeting very “Desperate Housewives”. For their first date, the couple went to an ‘NRA Ladies’ Day on the Range’ event. They have been together from the last 18 years, dividing their time between a pre-Civil War farmhouse in Berkshires, Western Massachusetts and a West Village apartment in New York City. Generally spending the weekends at their Massachusetts home with their Labrador, they put in long hours to maintain the “original bones” of the property to sustain its history.