Rancho Santa Fe’s Susan Lankford captures the moment


Growing up in Omaha, Neb., Susan Lankford’s home was full of books and music. She met her husband, Rob Lankford, in high school Latin class, and they attended the University of Nebraska. After they were married, Susan Lankford completed an internship in medical technology and research at Baylor Med Center in Dallas.

The Lankfords moved to Denver, where their three daughters were born. Rob Lankford entered into real estate development, and Susan Lankford took classes in photography, initially to capture her girls’ expressions and family holidays. She took up photography as a profession, studying with Ansel Adams in Yosemite, then later with Richard Misrach, Judy Dater and other greats. With each workshop, her love for the darkroom intensified.

After the Lankfords moved to Rancho Santa Fe, Susan’s focus turned from portraits to photojournalism. While shooting in the old Seaport Village jail, she met several of downtown’s homeless. Their stories and faces became the subjects of her second book, “Downtown U.S.A.”

Susan Lankford’s first book, “Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time” (about women jailed in San Diego), was published in September 2008. “Downtown U.S.A” is coming out on Sept. 15.

What brought you to Rancho Santa Fe?

The relocation of my husband’s business to La Jolla, plus in Rancho Santa Fe we could have our horses live on our property. It was a natural place for horses and other pets for our children to care for and enjoy. They became good equestrians and responsible caregivers.

What makes Rancho Santa Fe special to you?

The pastoral beauty of the community, plus it was a place we could raise our children, have horses and pets for them to care for and enjoy, and be able to have a vegetable garden. Also, the magnificent trees and fabulous established plants galore. Coming from the Midwest, there was more beauty and nature than I had ever experienced.

If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in the Ranch?

Pastoral as it is, it is not Utopia. I think there is an air of austerity and isolation that could be lifted with more smiles and “hellos.”

Who or what inspires you?

Scientific discoveries. Working toward how we can improve our American society through awareness and education.

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

My two closest friends, my husband and children, Einstein and Oliver Sacks.

Tell us about what you are currently reading.

“Sociobiology” by Edward O. Wilson and “A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness” by V.S. Ramachaandran.

What is your most prized possession?

Our pets: parrots, dogs, a donkey and turtles.

What do you do for fun?

Photograph and interview interesting people in unusual places, writing, running, walking and gardening.

Please describe your greatest accomplishment.

I’m still working on this one.

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

Be kind to yourself and to others. Be alert, curious and help increase awareness.