Closing The Loop: Photographer Susan Michal

Jan 15, 2016

Susan Michal
Credit Warren Miller

Today, Susan Michal chairs the Professional Photographers of America association. But she didn't start her career as a photographer.

Susan Michal was in her 20s, singing and playing piano all over the United States, and on cruise ships away from it, when she bought a camera in a pawn shop.

“I always knew that a lot of musicians had some visual talent. But I didn’t know what mine was; I knew I couldn’t draw. One day, as I was getting ready to go out of the country on a cruise, I wandered into a pawn shop, saw a camera and bought it. After the first roll of film, I knew that that was for me,” she remembers.

For the next 10 years, Susan studied the craft of photography while she traveled as a musician and in college when she was home in Jacksonville. Eventually, she quit music and started a practice as a portrait photographer. The specialty was a natural fit, she says.

“When you’re in music, you engage with people all the time,” she says. “Portrait photography was just an extension of that.”

With music as well as portrait photography, her involvement had usually been with just a few people at a time. Then she was asked to serve as a board member for the professional photographers’ trade organization. That wasn’t an extension of anything. It was a new side to her work and to her personality.

“I’m the current chairman of the Professional Photographers of America. Years ago, a friend approached me about joining the board. He said, ‘You’re exactly what the organization needs.’ I know that I’m unique in that I had experience in another artistic field,” she says.

In fact, a lot of perspectives that Susan brought from music were of value to other photographers.

“As a musician, you learn to how to perform regularly, even when you don’t feel like it. A lot of artists think that the job is mostly inspiration, but it’s not. It’s work. You learn how to work through those days,” she says.  

A few years ago, Susan began to photograph flowers in transition.

“I started photographing flowers in all the stages of their lives, from buds to bloom to wilting and dying. I photograph my portrait clients in all stages of their lives as well. In fact, this year I photographed the wedding of a girl whom I had first taken pictures of when she was 3 years old,” she says. “In my life, I’ve gone through a lot of transition this year, too. I lost a lot of weight, started working out more, getting in better health. It’s interesting that it all came together at the same time.”

Susan’s transition has brought her back to where she started: Music.

“I am playing music again,” she says with a smile. “When you open yourself up to creativity in one area, it also starts to express itself in other. I hadn’t played music in years, but now, it’s come back full force.”