Aspen On Pause

Black and while image of snow falling above Snowmass Base Village.

As we head into summer, the Aspen Snowmass community and much of the country will be stepping out of their homes and into a new experience with fewer restrictions and more freedoms. In anticipation of this change, we would like to reflect on the past several weeks through the lens of local photographer Tamara Susa. Tamara has kept an exquisite log of life in the Roaring Fork Valley with a series of images and stories that have captured the beauty and surreal nature of this time as well as the strength and spirit of community.
While most of us transition out of quarantine into a new normal, we sat down with Tamara to discuss her project and reflect on the past several spring months.
AS: Can you tell us a little about yourself Tamara?

My name is Tamara Susa, I've been a photographer for roughly 11 years now and have lived in the Roaring Fork Valley for the past 7 years.

What brought you to the Roaring Fork Valley?

I won a ski trip to Snowmass about 8 years ago in an online contest. It was such a life changing experience for me, that as soon as I graduated from college that same year I packed my bags and moved out here. 7 years later it’s still the best decision I ever made.
If we weren't in this situation with COVID-19, what would you normally be doing during this time?

I usually travel in the off seasons. I either explore a new destination or travel home to Serbia to see my family, which was the plan this spring. Not being able to see my family has been the hardest part about this whole situation.

What have you been doing since the lockdown took effect?

Once the mountain closed, I finally put to use that splitboard I bought at the beginning of the season and had only used once. Generally, I’ve been trying to stay more active and take advantage of all the activities in nature we get to do around here, while easily practicing social distancing.
What inspired you to start 'Aspen On Pause'?

On the first day after the mountains shut down, as I was skinning up Snowmass, I saw this elderly man hiking up with his snowboard. Amazed by his will to earn his turns even after the lifts were closed, I had to stop and ask him to take his photo. He told me he was 89 years old! Right there, I felt an obligation as a photographer to capture these times we live in as hopefully this will never happen again within our lifetime. After about a week I realized I’d been taking photos every day, so I decided to start a photo diary of daily changes that were happening locally, but also write down how I was feeling. I had a lot of anxiety those first couple of weeks, and it started to wear off as I was adjusting to our new normal.

In these last several months how did the Aspen community affect your project? Are there any insights you’ve gained about this community when looking back at this project?

The strength of our community and the love for the outdoors was so obvious throughout my whole project. Seeing so many people hike up the mountain on those powder days, not complaining about the lack of lift access, but there to enjoy it in any way they can, really made clear what this place is all about. And the fact that Aspen Snowmass kept grooming trails for uphilling is what kept most of us sane in those early weeks of quarantine.

The way that our community stepped up to help those in need is so remarkable and inspiring. People have told me that the only reason they could keep going is because they got rent relief, or they participated in food drives. People posting on social media offering to deliver food to those at risk, or signs posted in the neighborhood thanking the delivery drivers, all the little acts of kindness are what makes this community so amazing.
What is your biggest takeaway from this experience so far?

Not being able to leave made me more appreciative of what we have here. For the 7 years I’ve lived here, I got to see for the first time the valley transform from winter into spring. The aspen leaves have a magical vibrant green now that they lose later in the summer. I think this whole situation made me take a step back and appreciate the little things. Having all of my photography jobs cancelled, I finally found more time to do projects that I’m passionate about, this being one of them.

How has COVID-19 influenced your creativity?

As I mostly do commercial photography, this situation has pushed me to explore more of a photojournalistic approach to a place I photograph on a regular basis. I decided to present photographs in black and white, because once stripped of color, the photographs are reduced to raw emotion. Given the work that I do, my photographs are meant to show the beauty of this place. With black and white, I wanted to challenge our concept of beauty. It is still the same photograph of a powder day, but when you look at it in black and white, it evokes different emotions.

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