INTERVIEW WITH ZACK SMITH

How do you describe your photographic style? I like to describe my style more or less as engaging environmental portraiture. Engaging in the idea that most often the portraits I do, they are looking at the lens. I want a powerful interaction between the end result viewer and subject. Yet as I include the environment around my subject and treat it as another subject, I am completing another triad of creative expression. The more popular being: the Photographer, the Subject, the Viewer. When I become the photographer and the viewer during my capture process and allow my subject to interact with the environment around us, then we have elevated the photographic process. 


When and how did you start your career as a professional photographer? I started my career about 6 years ago. I had been moonlighting for 2 years as a freelance photographer during my tenure as a full time employee at Lakeside Camera. Working non-stop days and nights for those years allowed for a final break with them around the end of 2003. I’ve been working for myself and handling a large workload of clients on many creative levels.        
Do you have a photographic hero or anyone who inspires you to make great photos? I pull inspiration from many different sources and people, depending on my situation. But most of all I would say Herman Leonard. I worked closely with Herman for a few years as his shooting and lighting assistant when he was living in New Orleans, and what I learned then, and continue to learn now, has inspired me in all aspects of my image making. From portrait lighting and the technical side of photography, to the delicate balance and relationship between photographer and model, Herman is by far the best and I was lucky to have worked with him.   
Besides your career as a photographer, you also teach photography, run a gallery and play music…what do you do in your spare time, if there is any? There really is not a lot of spare time in my life. I’ve tried to make time for things like relationships, vacations and such, but I try to fit them in when I can. Some with decent results, and some with the jury still out. I realized years ago that I had an uncanny energy to just keep going and doing, no matter what it was. I decided that the best thing for my life (and health) was to point it in the direction of the things that gave me the most joy: people, photography, music and sharing knowledge.  


Any advice you would share with student or beginning photographers? Most people have questions with the technical side of photography at first, and then when they figure out that this camera is just a box with buttons…they are lost again. People then look for creativity in themselves and can’t find it…but I always remind them to shoot what you love, shoot what you know, and the creativity will follow.      What are you currently working on? Any upcoming shows, projects or news? I recently put up a new show of portraits at my gallery, and am working on shooting some new ones at this year’s Voodoo Fest. I will probably compile a hard cover book of the portrait setups I’ve done over the years, there’s some good ones.

I have also recently installed a collection of 20 large framed images in the newly opened Falstaff Residences in the old Falstaff Brewery. For a few months after the storm I had a key and would spelunk with my Hasselblad in and around the brew tanks and sketchy hallways. I ended up printing 10 images from this series with 10 of my favorite New Orleans images to complete the collection.      Another recent project…I photographed over 200 faces at a local rock show, with a light box I made from an old sign I found at the Green Project. I will be debuting the project, “Faces of Rock” at the Indie Rock Festival in November. These faces will be projected large scale at each venue, and each face will morph into the other on a repeat slide show type of thing. I am interested in exploring different facets of the music cultures of the city, but going against the way I normally photograph people: in this case, filling the frame with their faces and lighting it with the most unique light I can find, or create.      
Anything else we should know? I hope to photograph you soon!










Image titles in order of appearance:
Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Voodoo Fest, 2008, archival pigment print, ed. of 25
Carrollton Palm, 2006, New Orleans
Jazz Fest 2006, Indians
Clint Maedgen, Lake Pontchartrain, 2009, archival pigment print, ed.of 50