[Editor’s note: This story is part of an ongoing project in conjunction with the South Plains College Alumni Association. The project highlights former SPC students and their achievements.]
Not only does Sussan Bell follow her passion, but she also gives back to the community while doing it.
Bell owns her own photography studio, Fire Angel Photography, while also serving as the first lady firefighter for the Levelland Fire Department.
“Photography has always been one of my passions,” Bell says. “I’m an artist by trait, to be honest with you. I’ve always been able to draw and paint. When I was 3, I could draw a horse that looked like a horse, so it just evolved from there.”
Bell attended the International School of Fine Arts in 1980 earned a master’s degree in fine arts.
“I never did get a teaching certificate with that, and I wasn’t about to go back to school,” Bell recalls. “So I was always teaching art and doing substitute teaching in schools, thinking maybe I could just substitute teach in art, which I did for several years. Then when my grandkids were born, I picked up a camera. That was 16 years ago.”
Bell decided to continue her passion for photography by taking photography classes at South Plains College in 2007.
“I attended SPC 10 years ago,” Bell said. “I took all the photography classes I could, with Paul Davidson and Wes Underwood. I did not get a degree (from SPC). I just took all the classes I could to start this business.”
But it’s not just photography for Bell. She uses paintings that she’s painted herself for photo manipulations of her photos.
“Everything I use is basically stuff I’ve painted and then photographed, and then used them in the manipulations,” Bell explains. “It’s a lot of work, but it is so worth it, though. The outcome, the pieces are just absolutely amazing.”
Bell says she doesn’t just take average photos for her clients. Each of them get her best she can give.
“I always give my clients a surprise,” Bell explains. “I don’t ever just take the pictures and go, ‘here you go.’ That’s not the way I work. I always make them the best, like they were my best clients. Because that’s how you keep your clients, and you always have returning clients.”
Bell uses her studio to give back to the community as well.
“I provide a service of taking photos that parents can afford,” said Bell. “My clientele are the people that don’t normally get to go have photos taken, or have their kids’ photos taken, because they can’t afford it. And that’s what I like about it, and plus I can give back to the community that way.”
She provides services for the Main Street program in Levelland, as well as photos for the Fire Department.
She also gives back to community with the work she does for the Fire Department. Bell has been on the department for 20 years. She comes from a long line of fire fighters.
“My great grandfather was just a basic volunteer firefighter in Oklahoma,” Bell says. “My grandfather was a firefighter in the Merchant Marines, then my dad is a volunteer over in two departments in Oklahoma. And then my brother was a fire chief over in Oklahoma through his county. So I became a firefighter because I married a firefighter.”
Bell’s husband, Bobby Bell, had been on the Levelland Fire Department for 40 years, before retiring four years ago. His family started the Levelland Fire Department in 1927.
“I enjoy it because it’s a passion,” Bell adds. “It’s helping people. I became an EMT through the college (SPC). It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Bell manages both her photography studio and fire fighting full time. She carries a pager on her at all times and goes to a fire when ever she is paged.
“I never go when I have a client,” Bell explains. “But as soon as I get through with them, I go down to the station. I’m up in the middle of the night fighting fires, and we’re out doing everything possible. That’s was I do. I thrive on the adrenaline of the Fire Department and EMS. I thrive on the photography.”
Bell hopes to be able to do both photography and fire fighting as long as possible.
“I plan on doing this as long as I possibly can because it is a fire, it’s a passion in me,” Bell says. “This (photography) will be until the day I die, because I love it. I mean, I’m constantly creating different things and making my own.”