Rfotofolio is pleased to share the work and words of Aline Smithson.
Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, went to the College of Creative Studies at the University of California in Santa Barbara where I studied painting and printmaking, moved to NYC to continue as a painter and be part of the NY art scene and instead got pulled into the fashion world. For a decade I worked as fashion editor along side all the greats in fashion photography. I met and married my New Yorker husband and we moved back to California so he could pursue a degree at UCLA, planned to move back to NYC, but with two small children underfoot, we decided Los Angeles was and easier place to raise children. It took us years to make peace with living on the west coast again and now have fully embraced it. I have been teaching at the Los Angeles Center of Photography for almost fourteen years, and divide my days between my own photographic work, “Lenscratch”, teaching and tutoring, writing, editing, eating tortilla chips, and seeing as many movies as I can.
How did you get started photography?
I have been surrounded by photography my whole life. My father had a darkroom in the basement, my uncle was a photographer and I worked alongside photographers in New York, but never considered it my path. Then one day I decided I needed to learn how to take better photographs of my children and took a photography class. I discovered my uncle’s Rolleiflex in the garage and there was no looking back.
Did you have a mentor?
No. I am for the most part self-taught—I only took a few classes at the beginning of my career, but realized I needed to step away and try to just find my way. I made tons and tons of mistakes at all levels of this journey. I wish I had had a mentor–It would have helped a lot! I still hold out hope that I will find one!
Is there a photographer (present day or past) you would like to spend the day with?
Interesting question. I have met several of my photo heroes and have been horribly disappointed. Their personalities didn’t match the work that they made, so I don’t know how I feel about spending a day with someone whose work I adore. Maybe it would be better to just spend the day with the work! At this point, if I had to choose it would be a toss-up between Steichen, Avedon, Arbus, or Roger Ballen.
What affect does working with so many different photographers and being exposed to so many images day-to-day have on your creative process?
None really. I am very secure in my own creative vision as it’s based on who I am and the life that I’ve lived. There are days that I see work so stellar that I just want to forget trying to make my own work, but that passes and I tell myself that everyone has something unique to offer the world. I’m am constantly inspired by photographers’ creativity, but it doesn’t change how I make work.
If no one saw your work, would you still create it?
Absolutely. I have spent my entire life creating some kind of art—painting, drawing, printmaking, sewing, photography. It’s in the fiber of who I am and it is what feeds my soul.
Please tell us about your process and what is the perfect day for you.
Each series has a different germ of creation, so there is no specific path to my process. Sometimes it is sparked by simply trying something new, and if I like the results, I keep going. Sometimes I think about an idea for a long time and then begin to make work about it. I still shoot film and I still shoot the twin lens Rolleiflex. The slowed down nature of shooting medium format makes my work a bit more formal, but I like that.
A perfect day would be to have my children at home or with us on vacation, take some photos, poke around a flea market, have a great meal, laugh so hard that I begin to cry, look out over a body of water and appreciate my life. And maybe go to a movie. That would be heaven. A martini figures in there somewhere too.
What challenges do you face as an artist?
Good question. For a film shooter, it’s getting harder to find darkrooms and so many of the materials one gets comfortable with start to disappear . . . you always have to adapt. But a bigger challenge is that the artist has to do everything these days—from creating the work, learning new technologies to execute the work (Photoshop, scanning, printing, on and on). You need to be a good writer and be articulate about what you are doing, be a marketer and learn social media, incur the enormous costs of exhibiting, and end up with a few pennies in your wallet. All to begin again as you create new work. It’s all become a bit of a machine where the artist is running as fast as she can to create a new body of work, trying to keep up, stay current, stay vital, yet still be required to make work with substance and creativity. Honestly, it’s too much and not for the faint of heart.
Is there one thing that you wish people would stop doing when it comes to the creative process or in the art world?
I do think it’s time we reconsider the idea that everything has to be created around a project—20 images wrapped up in a neat bow with an artist statement on top. Projects are great, but what about all the single images we shoot that have no home and get over looked because they are not in that portfolio gift box?
People are quick to criticize the way things work in the fine art photo world . . . as if there were some force that doesn’t allow them to succeed. We are so lucky to have so many opportunities to exhibit work, lucky to be able to attend significant portfolio reviews that give us access to curators, gallerists, and editors, and lucky to have so many ways to get published online and in print. No other art form offers up this many career-changing opportunities and we have to remember that no one is forcing us to enter a contest or attend a review. Making smart choices about where you place your marketing dollars is the key. It’s also important to make work that hasn’t been done before, that has been shot with intention and has originality.
How do you over come a creative block?
You don’t overcome it, in fact I’d say that I’ve had creative block for a number of years, but that doesn’t stop me from continuing to make work on a daily basis. Chuck Close once said, which I truly believe: “I always say that inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
For inspiration, I love going to a museum to look at paintings and I just live life . . . there is a lot of inspiration in that.
What do you hope the viewer takes from your images?
I would hope that they see some of themselves in the work. I try to leave room for the viewer to get involved and hope that I am creating personal, yet universal work that sparks memory, humor, beauty, and pathos.
Would you like to share a story about one of your images?
Oh Jeez . . . . I had an idea for an image for my project, “Redefining Beauty”, and there was a show coming up in L.A. that I wanted it to appear in.
I called a 14-year-old neighbor who lives down the street and asked her if she could stop by after school. I had everything waiting, I did her hair, slipped her in the dress and ten minutes later we were done. Trust me, things don’t usually go that fast.
Is there a process or subject matter that you would like to take on in the future?
I would love to shoot 8×10, but to be honest; I am a bit frightened of the large format lifestyle. I’ve tried 4×5 with little success. I think you have to slow way down and be patient and I’m not sure I have it in me.
In terms of subject matter, I’m open to everything. I have about six series going at once and none of them relate to each other. I’d like to do more conceptual work, more humor, and my goal would be to create a body of work that I am so excited about that it keeps me up at night.
Thank you Aline for sharing your work with us.
To learn more about the work of Aline Smithson please visit her site at, Aline Smithson Photography.