Portrait of Bee Balm © Michelle Smith Lewis
Portrait of Bee Balm © Michelle Smith Lewis

Rfotofolio was inspired to ask photographers, “What is beauty to you?” Today we continue to bring the you the work and words of the top eight submissions as chosen by France Scully Osterman.

Today Rfotofolio is happy to present the work of Michelle Smith Lewis.

Please tell us about yourself.

I’m a photographer, artist, collector, and sometimes a self-proclaimed hermit.

How did you get started photography?

My mom gave me a Kodak instant camera for my 11th birthday. I photographed everything around me; my friends, my environment, and my family. I used to dress up my sister in makeshift costumes and photograph her against a blanket hanging from the basement ceiling. It was very strange. When I was nineteen I purchased my first 35mm camera… then my real life began.

Which photographers and other artist work do admire?

I tend to be inspired more by other female photographers. My list is too long but if I had to name a few (or so) then I would say Sally Mann, Mary Ellen Mark, Diane Arbus, and Francesca Woodman. I should also add my new inspiration… Vivian Maier. Other visual artists that inspire me are Georgia O’Keeffe and Marcel Duchamp.

And what about their work inspires you?

I think it’s the intimacy and the raw beauty that they capture… finding a truth among people and objects around us. There is a sense of comfort and elegance in the sadness and darkness as well. What’s truly gratifying is seeing that the truth and maturity that I admire in their work developing in my own. As for the visual artists I’m inspired by O’Keeffe’s connection to her surroundings and Duchamp’s connection to his family and friends.

When did you start to develop a personal style?

What’s funny is that I never knew I had a personal style until my boyfriend, now husband, pointed it out. It just developed naturally and took me by surprise. I guess I still don’t know what my style is…I just do it.

Portrait of Grass © Michelle Smith-Lewis
Portrait of Grass © Michelle Smith-Lewis
Portrait of a Bracken Fern by Michelle Smith-Lewis
Portrait of a Bracken Fern by Michelle Smith-Lewis

Please tell us about your process and what the perfect day of photography is for you.

There are two stages to my process. The first stage is the gathering of materials and how I will arrange them. Most of my subjects are found within my own garden. I love walking through my yard and garden to find plants that are in just the right time of the season for gathering. This also gives me the time to think about future images and what a plant will look like in a week, a month or even what it will look like when it has gone through its life cycle. I’m always in the yard snipping and saving specimens…my garage is filled with dried plants waiting to be photographed. The second stage of my process is to determine how the image will be captured. Depending on the time of the year some of the specimens will be used for my cyanotypes, but most will be used for my wet plate collodion botanical project. This is also the time when I determine if a specimen will be used as an individual portrait or a triptych.
A perfect day is when the right music is playing, my chemicals, plates and lighting are in sync with the universe and I can produce a large batch of plates in one sitting. When that perfect moment happens I completely lose track of time and forget about everything else around me.

What challenges do you face as a photographer?

I’m my own biggest challenge. I’m a very private person and sometimes find it difficult to let people know who I am through my work. The collodion process has helped me open up a bit more and get over that fear.

With the rapid changes in how people make and view a photograph how do you view this time in the history of photography?

I view it like any other time in photographic history… you will have your nay-sayers but that’s how things evolve and how we may view and/or make a photograph. Every new change goes through its crazy period in the timeline.

How do you over come a creative block?

I usually have multiple projects going so if I have problems with one I’ll work on another. Another way I over come a creative block is to talk to other artists. I have a couple of close friends that are artists and we talk about art issues and creative blocks. It is pretty uplifting to have a support system built with peers.

Portrait of Poppies by Michelle Smith-Lewis
Portrait of Poppies by Michelle Smith-Lewis

How does your art affect the way you see the world?

It’s more the other way around, my world has affected way I approach art. As a teenager I was involved in a serious accident and my memories of the events were affected. Since then, and through photography, I feel the need to capture and remember everything, especially the small things that you wouldn’t normally notice. If there’s an event, I don’t always focus on the main attraction… I look to what’s going on to the sides, or in the background. That’s what needs to be captured. Now that I think of it, perhaps that is the moment that influenced the development of my style. Now that is serendipity!

Is there another type of photography or subject matter you would like tackle?

I would like to get more involved with historical printing techniques. Albumen printing is my next venture… my husband has been collecting egg whites… they’re in the freezer.

Thank you Michelle  for sharing your work with us.

To learn more about the work ofMichelle Smith-Lewis just click on her name.

thank you800.