October 13, 2010

Mr. S Meets Mr. Smith

“Enough! Enough!” yowls my imaginary woof, Oklahoma. I can finally see by imagining his eyes and visioning his head on the ground with his paws over his ears, that I must cease. It is time to stop my ramblings for a while about my ontological, existential, physiological disorder of an upbringing, and bring us back to reality with some real meat (preferably filet) and potatoes of photography. No more psycho-babble, let’s get right to the heart of the matter of my pictures and of photography in general.

So to start my down to earth foray for a while, i thought it only fitting that I interview myself with some pertinent life affecting, photo directed questions that have been posed to me over the years by you, dear readers.

This will be my way to get me back to focusing clearly and directly on photography, through my pictures and see if I can leave all this sissy introspection behind and close this spigot on my emotions, well here goes.

Mr. S: In over 40 years of photography do you have one day in particular that you feel was your best?

Mr. Smith: Ironically, I do. In the spring of 1976, I was in Jerusalem on a fellowship and was having lunch with the beautiful photographer, Dominique Nabokov. She asked me to accompany her to the Armenian compound for Armenian Orthodox Easter Service.

That afternoon was the most photographically productive and exciting day of my life. The church was filled with despair, yet illuminated with light. The light was transcendent and for one of the few times in my life I felt spiritually whole. The light, the people, the experience was the day to remember.

Mr. S: This answer brings up another question. What is the source of illumination in your pictures? Or (to be more colloquial) what is your light source?

Mr. Smith: Where or how I learned to use light as I do, to this day remains an enigma to me. It is not complicated. In fact, it is so simple, that  it continually surprises me that I find so few people doing it. Everyone feels more is more and I guess I have always felt that less is more.

Basically, there are two answers to your question.

Firstly, Interiors. This is where the real photographer is exposed. No hiding behind a rock in the great outdoors, but rather exposing yourself in some small space.

I have always loved intense directional light. It is not only because it visually appeals to me, but as discussed in earlier blogs, it emotionally seems to reveal or illuminate the person and place in a way that I find satisfying.

I almost exclusively use natural light and I like to see the subject as our eyes view it but with more focus and more intent. Even in graduate school I never liked how people lit things or used light. It felt quite banal and unemotional. I always went off on my own tangent and must have found the source of my love of light in photographer’s like W. Eugene Smith but mostly in 16th Century Flemish Painting.

Now to the outdoors. Always very hard!

Without spending too much time, the grayer the day the more I like it. I am not exactly a “Mr. Sunshine” when it comes to shooting outdoors.

I love the mood, overcast and chill of England and Ireland and dislike the sunshine of California. Give me stormy weather. It lifts my soul.

Mr. S: A rather silly question, but one I am sure you are often asked, “Do you have a favorite photograph?”

Mr. Smith: The answer is simply no. In fact it would be hard given my personality disorders to have a favorite. The pictures I like are not necessarily the pictures that others like.

Often, I like the person I am photographing, the story attached to the photographs. I like the reminiscences, the smell, the coffee I drank while shooting the picture, as much or more than I like the pictures themselves. It is always the experience of making the pictures that is the best part of the picture.

P.S. I do enjoy taking a picture that I have never taken before. For a short while this feels very exciting to me.

Mr. S: Why Photography?

Mr. Smith: The answer to this question would probably need more paper than I can spare to answer. Simply put, it is the convergence of so many needs and so many outlets. I think if I have any genius at all, it is not in the execution. The making of pictures always falls short, or fails on some level, but it is the choice of photography as a vocation. It has provided me with so much to give thanks for.

When I was in college, I thought I might be a novelist but quickly realized I might have the sentiment but not the skill. Hence, with an ode to joy by circumstance described earlier in the blogs, I found a love of my life.

Mr. S: Last question. Is this the end?

Mr. Smith: Absolutely not. I am more sure than ever that this is just the beginning. Thank you.



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  2. I agree – I’d take a rainstorm over a sunny day at the beach no matter what.

    Comment by Nicole — October 17, 2010 @ 11:56 am

  3. Your photographs are stunning, beautiful, captivating, and witty. I appreciate the world more when looking at them, and they inspire me and help me be a happier person. I also find your blog extremely amusing. Thank you for using your rare talent to do so much good. You have always been my favorite photographer.

    Thank you!

    Comment by Jennifer — October 18, 2010 @ 11:27 pm

  4. Dear Mr. S and Mr. Smith,

    All sides of you inspire me. Thanks for the inspiration!


    Comment by Becky — October 19, 2010 @ 11:31 am

  5. I had never heard of you before when I just randomly found some of your photos. I love them! I really do. They are amazing! You are my new favorite photographer!

    Comment by A — October 23, 2010 @ 10:13 am

  6. Thank you for sharing, Mr. Smith. I too share in the joy of the experience. The experience of making the picture, much more than I do my actual photographs.

    Comment by Dan B — October 25, 2010 @ 6:53 pm

  7. the answer about the favourite photo was one of the best ;) ill be trying not to quote it ;)

    Comment by Oleksandr Hnatenko — November 5, 2010 @ 10:53 am

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