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“Seat Photography”

Drive

Crenshaw Plaza

Drive

Intersection, the 101 Downtown

Drive

Self-portrait, Sunset & Hyperion at dawn

Drive

(Just roaming for the moment)

Drive

Tang’s

I’ve begun to enjoy the driver’s seat as a handicap of sorts, a restriction on the potential for a composition, and it’s an interesting challenge to make decent shots from

(—these are all taken whilst parked, i’m not in motion and composing or anything—)

This has been the only photo series I’ve attempted in some time, as it still feels like an odd time to be documenting anything—with so many people growing up playing to a camera lens, it seems more logical to turn it away for a while. I’ve felt very at odds with the camera lately, except for when I’m driving around—it just seems to be a medium inappropriate for our current moment, perhaps because it is in some way at fault for it.

“Love, Part II: Don’t Die Not Knowing (Take My Picture)”

Even though cameras are everywhere and people take pictures with their cars at this point, there’s a mighty difference between being a person who lucks out on capturing a good frame from a live stream and one who understands the mechanics of optics and the natural flow of humanity enough to capture a moment. Point being, there are people who take pictures and there are photographers.

This isn’t meant as higher-than-though snobbery, either: I fully believe anyone can become a photographer. But there’s a difference, and that difference is all in the person behind the camera: it’s intention, it’s consideration, it’s an idea. It’s a feeling, a desire, a risk. If there’s no intention to a picture that comes out good, then it’s emotional ephemera. If you risk a feeling of failure, the reward of the frame is tenfold.

& photographers all know this feeling. It’s the reason most keep taking pictures, to feel the camera click as your finger presses down, and for the blink where it all goes black behind the lens, you know you go the shot. That it’ll be confirmed when the film comes back, or when the image is uploaded, but you just know it came out—just enough, at least, to be confident more than you are nervous. (it is not dis-similar to other creative feelings such as: showing a painting for the first time, releasing a song to the public, performing anything in front of a live audience)

And as it is with the camera, so it is with the heart.

In my wanderings since college, I’ve fallen in love three times, and I have a picture of each moment.

Whatever processes make up my internal government, they usually rely on a creative reflex to confirm an emotional instinct. I make things in order to process thoughts and feelings, and this always has had a strange and distinct intersection with my personal relationships. In the best of extremes, it comes down to a moment of clarity, a single frame. A point at which the creative desire to create a document crosses with the personal desire to connect with someone in a way that could not be closer.

And that’s just how it’s gone with me, with portraiture in general. It’s why I only make portraits of people I know, because that’s the only way they’ll be true. While I have an extensive portfolio of pictures and paintings of people, it’s these that I return to, because they represent the best intersections of emotions and motivations that don’t necessarily have established languages, for they remain intensely personal. These aren’t works that necessarily translate to anything greater than personal resonance, but it is within that resonance that creates reason for the rest.

Romantic love is hardly the most important variation of the feeling, yet it’s the one advertising and industry use to contort our society with in its various messages of manipulation and public relations. In many ways these are tough photos for me to look at now (as, obviously, the third time has not actually turned into the charm I had hoped for)—yet I find them important to return to as reminders that art is about translating the unseen, intangible intersections of our lives that are understood but undefined, to help people better understand one another, or perhaps if nothing else, ourselves.

“Framing The Negative”

The day after Scott Olsen was shot in the head by Oakland Police, all of the Bay seemed to descend on either the Oakland or San Francisco camps for Occupy Wall Street, waiting for a fight—or, at least, a good picture of one.

It was hardly the first time I’d seen a multitude of photographers at a protest—Occupy Wall Street was sustained by its own media presence after all—but it was here that I began noticing the nature of photography itself changing. The people taking pictures were not there to document the movement and the associated confluence of individual anxieties joining to form a social bond of hope, but rather whatever the best opportunity was for watching a person get hit by a cop.

The thing is, Occupy was about so much more—in fact, it was about how police were just a microcosm of the issues facing us—that it was so disheartening to see the narrative so quickly turn to exclusively violence. This is what a police state looks like: when all issues inevitably end up facing off with the cops.

Occupy

January, 2012: Occupy Wall Street protesters form a human chain around the entrance to Bank of America in downtown San Francisco. A majority of all #OWS actions and camps were extensively documented as non-violent.

At its onset, conflict photography posed a legitimate threat to the establishment, for people had not been inoculated to images of horrific violence yet. Thumbing through an issue of Life to see a child burned by Napalm during the Vietnam War could turn more public opinion than online images of a severed arm in the crater from a drone strike under the Obama administration. As a society, the amount of violence we’re used to accepting (both in terms of what we’re presented with, as well as what we’re told is the nature of our State) is so vast, conflict photography loses its punch.

This summer alone, images from every city in America were full of non-violent protesters being ruthlessly assaulted by police, yet de-funding is still a third rail topic for most politicians. We live in a society where violence is accepted, and so it doesn’t feel right to me now to be photographing it; it feels almost promotional.

While I’m no stranger to being at the front lines to document a spat, it’s also the responsibility of those telling stories to understand the entirety of the context—something the media illiteracy of most ends up derailing into a lowest-common-denominator of If it bleeds, it leads. I’d like to show something else; the parts we’re fighting for while we’re getting beat back by the state.

Occupy

October, 2011: The people of Oakland hold a nightly public meeting.

That may seem counter-intuitive, but the photographs from the 2020 uprising often felt like they were being published by institutions solely for archival purposes or a stockpile for awards consideration.

It felt like this because journalism as a whole feels detached from our society as an imperative. The ineffective nature of reporting—in whatever medium—to influence policy is partially based in the symbiotic relationship between the institutions of the press and the state. So long as the decisions of both are dictated by the will of commerce, neither will do any good in accurately reflecting the view from the other side of the fence.

So at this point, pictures of people getting their heads caved in by riot police feel more like ads from the powerful, saying You lost, you’re all fucked now. See this? It never stops. They know how the media game is played, and they know there won’t be a photograph that will outlast the news cycle long enough to change things.

BLM

September 2020: Black Lives Matter protests continue demonstrating nationwide with a march through downtown Los Angeles protesting the grand jury verdict in the case of justice for Breonna Taylor.

It seems the most substantial difference between the Occupy and BLM movements was how ready the police were to deal with behavior in a outright aggressive way. Protests and marches have become so staged that the expectation of violence allows for the police to get away with a certain amount of publicized brutality before facing any real consequence.

It’s only when the photographer is unexpected now that they pose any real threat: the video of George Floyd’s killing and the picture of Michael Brown in the street both were visual documents that instigated the push for change, because that’s the world we live in now. As our society has been consumed by the spectacle, the roles of revolutionary and documentarian alike feel more and more like performances than positions of social change.

Photography has been a massively volatile creature as its many forms evolve through digital technology, and there’s a substantial social side effect to all of this in how we appreciate the world around us. The power of an image has been lost, and now they have become predominantly commodities, documents of a space and time that can be sold. It’s an existential question, much like the nature of our social institutions: what do we do when we outgrow our own inventions?

Briefly

Colin Smith is an interdisciplinary artist & art director living & working in Los Angeles. His assembly-based work focuses on human nature and its relationship to media, language, time, and systems of control.

For more information, social links, as well as various writings on practice & theory, visit the about page.

To quickly get in touch, e-mail hello@.

Colophon

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