Feature Article, Photographers You Should Know, Photography

(‘Photographers You Should Know’ is a column where I highlight an amazing photographer who I believe deserves more attention and awareness)

Full disclosure: I have known Skyler Smith for my entire life. We both grew up in Midwest City, Oklahoma as neighbors, our backyards sharing a common fence. We, of course, became great friends throughout life, went to all of the same schools and were pretty much into the same things. Our dads were really great friends as well, both conspiring to put on the most elaborate fireworks show they possibly could every 4th of July, both of our families being collective spectators for the evening.

We didn’t know it at the time but in 8th grade, we started our first collaborative art project together…which was about as artsy as two 8th graders can be. The project: “2 Pimps in America”, a 45-minute collage of comedy sketches, parodies, amateur boxing matches and even more amateurish skateboarding. Basically, every random thing we were into at the time. After a while, we stopped working on it because we didn’t really see the point and didn’t fancy ourselves as being filmmakers of any sort (at the time). Looking back on it, I realize now that it was our first taste of writing, directing, acting, and editing, which we did 100% in camera!

Once we hit high school, we began to dive into the arts further. Along with the Halo matches and partying, we traded films and music. I still remember watching A Clockwork Orange, being blown away by it, and then handing him my Video CD copy of the film over the fence (with the same reaction from him following suit). We even did a concert together in our home town, as he was a bassist in a local band called Sal Domino and I was writing and producing my own music. I was sure he would continue in that direction [of music] but he took a left turn and really caught me by surprise.

When I found out he had entered the world of photography, I had no clue what to expect. But when I saw it, I was amazed at simply how great it was, even from the very beginning. Skyler has always been a creative individual but this was something he was obviously gifted at, a natural who showed an uncanny familiarity with the form once he picked up his camera.

I was first introduced to his work from his portraits. He took our friends and turned them into art pieces. Skyler showed a different side to people that I had grew up with, some of whom even lived in our same neighborhood. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; a total transformation and flourishing that I was able to witness first hand. His photos felt vintage and familiar, some cast in a haze and others feeling like a memory trapped within a dream you never knew you had. I wasn’t just looking at people, I was looking at their emotions, some of which were trapped and happened to bleed through the eyes but nevertheless captured by a cameraman who was performing magic.

As he matured as an artist, he branched off into other areas that he conquered with a lens, including landscape and interior work. I can almost feel the ghosts occupying these barren spaces and many times, wishing I was that ghost myself. His work places me in the space that is captured, turning off my thoughts and letting me simply feel what is being presented.

And now, I present an interview I conducted with Skyler Smith.

RE: When did you first start doing photography as more than just a hobby? Do you remember how old you were and what triggered it?
Skyler Smith: I remember always having a camera then in early high school I started photographing my friend’s band Andy (who I met through friends of my brother) which was cool. Then I was going to not go to college when I graduated high school, but I had two very special teachers get me into college and about that time I saw Joe Harjo’s photographs and that’s when photography hit home with me. Ol’ Joe Harjo showed me what real photography was.

How much formal training have you had on photography?
I studied art and photography for about 3 years at The University of Central Oklahoma then I dropped out.

I know you’re a huge film buff like me. What filmmakers do you idolize? Which ones influence you?
I am into film.
Two film makers in particular, Harmony Korine and Werner Herzog. I’ll stop there.

Any specific films that inspire you from a lighting/photography standpoint? Any favorite cinematographers?
Most everything Paul Thomas Anderson has done inspires me.
There Will be Blood was major and definitely The Third Man. That chase scene is nuts!

What is your favorite camera or lens to use for your photography? And do you prefer film or digital, and why?
My favorite camera to use is my M645 which should be retired by now. I got it off a 1970’s pool designer in Tulsa. The damn thing is broke but still takes a pretty good photograph. Recently I upgraded to a fancy digital version of the m645 (Mamiya 645afd), but it just doesn’t have that 1970’s swimming pool designer feel and it certainly ain’t from Tulsa.

I noticed that you like to shoot a lot of portraits. What characteristics do you look for in a person when you decide to shoot them?
As of now my portraits are changing. I’m going for an early 20th century Vienna style portrait. Shits looking good, but usually I don’t really look for a characteristic in my subjects. Its really about the surrounding environment and the situation at hand that intrigues me. I can pull the expression I am looking for right out by confronting my subject with the camera.

Do you prefer to ‘run-and-gun’ when you shoot? Or do you carefully plan on what it is you’ll be shooting?
Although I have A.D.D. and let me tell you, I am a big supporter, I am more on the slower side of photographing things. If I run’n gun I just feel lousy about the photograph. It gets me all shook up inside and I usually burn the image with fire.

Anything you would like to experiment with that you haven’t done yet? That you are itching to try out?
I’ve been doing a lot of experimental hands on stuff, some drawings and collages. Soon I’ll be hand printing onto these giant stretchers I got off an artist in Bushwick, Brooklyn that will be MASSIVE!! I am pretty excited, 2012 is looking real good!

You can support the work of Skyler Smith by going to:
The Skyler Smith Facebook page

Follow me on Twitter! @ryanestabrooks

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