10 minutes with Angie Smith
When did you first know that you wanted to be a photographer?
I knew that I wanted to be a photographer as my profession when I was a Junior at Bard College. I had taken a semester off after September 11th, then traveled to Brazil, then spent a semester in Ecuador. When I resumed my studies at Bard, I was more focused with the time that I had left to complete my degree. I immediately found my stride with photography and felt like I was making images that needed to be made and that only I could make. I was working creatively on a much deeper level. As time passed and I continued to shoot, my momentum just got stronger and the feedback I received was positive enough that I felt like I was doing the right thing. Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Who were some of the first photographers that inspired you?
Robert Adams was the first photographer whose work I fell in love with. At the time, I was really interested in shooting suburban developments and a lot of the construction that was happening where my dad lived in Boise, Idaho. I also have always been highly influenced by my love of nature. I can really sense how much Robert Adams respects the natural environment in his work. The other photographer that influenced me at that time was Joel Sternfeld. His ability to capture such extremely bizarre scenes that united a beautiful landscape with uncanny moments of human interaction with a large format camera baffled me. To this day, he is still one of my favorite photographers.
Tell me about your series, Mennonites? How did you get access to the community?
This particular Mennonite community is called Salamanca and it’s in the Yucatan in Mexico. I was traveling in a small town called Bacalar, which is about 5 miles from Salamanca. One morning I saw several people from the Mennonite community in town selling eggs and vegetables. Seeing them travel around the area with horse and buggy- in contrast to the culture of this small Mexican town was fascinating and I had to explore it. As soon as I found out where the community was, I just drove out there. It wasn’t hard to get access, it was just difficult to approach people as they weren’t particularly enthusiastic about having their picture taken. They were pretty suspicious of me, so I had to work very hard to gain their trust. It was a very good practice in working through uncomfortable situations and managing to form relationships when you are in an environment where you don’t feel at ease or welcome.
What would your dream assignment be?
Wow, what a question! I would love to be sent to Rio de Janeiro or Bahia in Brazil to photograph Carnival. I love shooting nightlife- and environments where people are completely lost in their experience. I would love to go on tour with a musician in a really different part of the world like Eastern Europe or Asia- or be the personal photographer to some celebrity like Kanye West. I love the idea of spending time with a person with a very high public profile – that is interpreted by the media in a very specific way, then making pictures that reveal other sides to them that no one has the ability to see. Honestly, most of my dream assignments involve traveling and photographing the experience of seeing a place for the first time with fresh eyes. I’m the type of person that is stimulated by life in so many ways- that almost every assignment I have gotten a call for is something I felt really excited about. That’s why I think photography is the perfect profession for me- it’s one more way to experience, interpret and document all of the beautiful and multifaceted experiences that life brings.
(Angie is based in Los Angeles. See more of her work, here)