To put it simply: Susan Scheff is a remarkable photographer. She’s definitely got the gift, and her work is representative of such. What takes many photogs years to grasp, Scheff has already mastered. Her pictures possess an undeniable intimacy—a “real life” quality that truly reflects the “captured moment.” And it shouldn’t come as a great surprise; she knew from early childhood that she wanted to be an artist in some form. We struck up a conversation with her recently, and found out that life isn’t all about picture taking for one of the area’s top talents.
YEP: You’re a Charles Town girl now—where did you grow up?
Scheff: I was born in Alexandria, VA, though I was raised in Greensboro, NC. My college background is a degree in interior design (worked in the furniture industry a brief while). I also worked in the restaurant industry for just over ten years. I lived in Manassas, VA, for six years, and now, I’ve been here in Charles Town for seven years. I’m married to my husband, Paul, the love of my life, and we have a son, Will, who is almost twelve years old.
YEP: What are your first memories of photography? When did you know being an artist was for you?
Scheff: It started with me at age three; I was “changing” a black-and-white TV into a color one—crayons were my medium. And I loved post cards. I collected any that caught my eye. My first recollection of photography is peering through my mother’s everyday photo albums. Even now, I love looking through them every opportunity I get. They speak to me…about time, design elements, and especially memorable characteristics of loved ones—even complete strangers. Each photograph is like an article to me—each deserving of being “read.”
YEP: What do you love about Charles Town? Tell us something special about your area.
Scheff: I live in Charles Town (WV), and I love the small town feeling in my neighborhood. We know our neighbors’ names and enjoy gatherings—and watching each other’s children grow up. It is a bit more of a challenge for our family, as we have a son with special needs, on the autism spectrum (who is amazing!), and therefore, is involved with a different school. Having said that, there is still a warm feeling of acceptance and inclusion…which you can’t put a price on.
YEP: What does photography mean to you?
Scheff: Photography has been a blessing to me—allowing me to have a creative outlet, which I crave, and meet really amazing people. My husband has been hugely supportive, and I am still able to meet the demanding needs of being the mother of a child with special needs. It has also served as an intervention tool for connecting with my son, and gaining eye contact, which can be a really challenging part of autism. I have also had the great pleasure of photographing First Communion for St. James, for the past five years. (View many of those photos here.)
YEP: Tell us about PhotoScheff—how it began, your go-to equipment, and what your ultimate goals are.
Scheff: My website is photoscheff.com, though I have never really considered myself a company. I now just use my name on current photos…Susan Scheff Photography. My first camera was a Kodak Instamatic 124, with the flash cubes. I cannot even guestimate the “mileage” on it—and I still have it. I’ve used a variety of brands, though I’ve been partial to Nikon once my investment began. My goals are to continue to serve those who are interested, and to contribute to my family’s needs, close to home.
YEP: You obviously love to shoot people—do you have other favorite “shots” or creative outlets?
Scheff: While my college background is interior design, my desire is photography. Yes, I love capturing people with my camera; I also really enjoy unique places, architecture, sculpture gardens, and simply spending the day or evening walking around with my family—just seeing where it takes us.
YEP: What inspires you the most, and what do you do to relax/get “away” from it all?
Scheff: My main inspiration comes from handing a beautiful finished product to a happy client, and earning the opportunity to work with them again. I really enjoy more intimate shoots for portraits—weddings and such. Our favorite place to get away is Sweetwater Tavern (in Reston, VA), and we love a day out exploring in D.C., or really anywhere, as long as we’re together.
YEP: We know that you are very passionate about advocating for your son’s special needs; can you elaborate a little on what it has been like to raise a child with autism, and how you’ve grown as a result?
Scheff: Raising Will has been incredible. Being our only son, my husband Paul and I feel completely normal as a family—we only feel “different” when we are around a “typical” family…and then, we know.
Will was diagnosed on the autism spectrum at age three. He had barely any spoken language, though at the age of two, he was already writing the alphabet—first on his Magna Doodle, and then typing on the computer. He would remember street signs that we’d pass while in the car, and then come home and type them all—while at the same time, remaining unable to say “I need help,” or “I love you mommy/daddy.”
I have been blessed to have a passion turned profession (self-taught) with a flexible schedule, so that I can be there for my son. And to my surprise, my own passion has helped to bridge the communication gap with Will. Throughout the years, I have photographed him, pretty much non-stop, as well as made mini-clips of him doing everyday things—and he has used all of these videos and photos as his own learning tools. He spent many of his earlier years, like many autistic children, repetitively watching the clips over and over, and over. He also memorizes scenes from various shows and movies, and has a gift of pulling language from his repertoire of vocabulary to help him verbally communicate. And from there, he is now able to formulate his own sentences.
When we first moved to Jefferson County, we were concerned about placement in a great environment, and though there have been hurdles (with the system), we have been fortunate that, along the way, Will was paired with his autism aide, Mr. Steve Lee. He has been with Will for five years now, and feels like family; we know Will is always in good hands.
Scheff tends to work where she lives, and it’s an honor to have such a talented artist in Jefferson County, WV, ready and willing to provide you with expert photography services. Her rate is $50/hourly. Custom-edited photographs are sold separately, with no minimum order. And weddings are priced differently, starting at $2,000. You can find her on photoscheff.com, as well as Facebook.
E.P.I.C. (Eastern Panhandle Indigo Children) is a local autism advocacy and education non-profit. The organization is celebrating its first year, and continues to “…strive to close the divide in our community for persons and families living with autism.” Visit their website for more information on how you can join the cause.