Brand: What first attracted you to photography as a fine art medium?
Smith: Well, I had grown up surrounded by amateur photography. My family has always documented events and things with color photographs. My parents have boxes and boxes of negatives. Because it was always around, I never really considered photography as a fine art medium until I was a freshman in college and I realized that photo's aren’t just illusions, but objects in themselves that could have meaning heaped upon them or left as empty as a stone you find on the ground.
Brand: Is this a new way of thinking about photography?
Smith: I don't think so. I think Masao Yamamoto and other older photographers have been seeing them that way for a while. Contemporary Indian culture even elevates photographs to be almost like talismans.
I like that.
Brand: Lets talk about your method. How do go about taking pictures?
Smith: Well, I usually always keep a camera with me. I began by staging scenes and I still do if I find it necessary but lately I have been interested in a more natural way of shooting.
Brand: What do you mean by "natural".
Smith: Just photographing objects, scenes and people I find interesting in everyday life. I keep in mind that some of the images may function as nothing more than catalysts for other ideas.
Brand: Do you think technical proficiency is important element in your work.
Smith: Yes, but maybe not in the
way you think. I could only learn to understand photography by becoming technically skilled in image making, but my recent work isn’t necessarily about beautiful photographs. I include good and bad prints and
compositions to compliment each other in each arrangement. I even use found photographs and images.
Brand: What kind of equipment do you use?
Smith: Really anything I can get my hands on. I've shot digital, polaroid, 35mm film, 4x5 film, I have a few medium format cameras. I like the aesthetic that comes along with found images and I like to see what how different techniques contrast one another.
Brand:I notice that you don't title your photographs.
Smith: No, I find that titles rarely add what I want them too.
Brand: regarding something that you mentioned earlier, in what way does the idea of the talisman interest you as an artist?
Smith: Well I find it interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all I think it is interesting that a mundane object can become more than it is by concept alone. Human thoughts and emotions manifest themselves physically in human actions. Continuing along that line of thought, an object that affects things like confidence, melancholy, or loneliness really do have a kind of real power. I have the wooden ox bow that my great great grandparents used to pull their wagon west. Each generation carved a date into it and its more than a hundred years old. It is a seemingly worthless big chunk of wood but it is priceless to me.
Brand: So it is that mechanism you are trying to explore with these photographs?
Smith: Well that's part of it. I'm also interested in our experience of those kinds of things and how our treatment of objects such as photographs effect how we perceive them. A man who waits at a bus stop and unfolds a print from his pocket to see an image has a very different experience from someone who gazes at a pristine photograph at eye level in a field of white in an air conditioned building.
Brand: Which experience do you think is more valuable?
Smith: Both are valuable I think, just different. I am personally interested in what a photo print could mean rather than what it represents on the surface.
Brand: How would you illustrate possible meanings for photographs, it is a pretty abstract idea for such a concrete medium.
Smith: Well, that is where my mode of display really comes in. I've started printing smaller and smaller and it has mostly to do with the fact that I would like people to see objects that they could hold, perhaps tuck into their wallets or purses, also because it draws people closer in order to properly examine the images and perhaps become more intimate with the objects themselves. I cluster and pair these images together or set them apart from one another physically to create a kind of visual mental map of the them. I do this to create abstract associations between seemingly unrelated images. A picture of a flower by itself has a much different meaning than the same print paired with an image of perhaps of a dead body. It might make one think of a funeral or the passing of a loved one. A funeral isn't present in either photograph but it might be implied by nothing but visual proximate of two unrelated objects.
Brand: Not all of your metaphors are linear and logical as that though are they?
Smith: No, I suppose not. I love abstraction, especially in the ways that surrealists use it. I don't like to feed people ideas that are already chewed up, either. I try not to interfere with personal meanings that people impose on my work. As you said the links are not always logical, but nether are emotions. My grandmother is deathly afraid of feathers for example.