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Art & Life with Shannon Smith

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shannon Smith.

Shannon, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I began college as an English major. My roommate was a painting major, and I loved hanging out with him in his studio space in the attic, filled with cigarette smoke and turpentine. He was taking a required beginning photography course, and one evening I joined him in the darkroom while waiting to carpool home together. That was it, I immediately fell in love and wanted to know more.

I enrolled in an art appreciation class, and as much as I enjoyed learning about the plethora of artists we were introduced to, it was Barry Anderson, the head of the photography department at that time, who showed us Robert Frank, Sally Mann, Harry Callahan, Mary Ellen Mark and more, and wept in his stories and descriptions of their work, that truly struck a cord with me. He spoke about how he fell in love with photography and changed his major from what I remember him saying to be Science/Engineering/maybe Biology to following his heart and studying photography with Jerry Uelsmann.

After the class ended that day, I changed my major from English to Photography, and never looked back, it was such an exciting time! I began attending lectures at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Hearing these artists speak about their work, and tell the stories behind many of their images had a huge impact on me. Duane Michals was a real treat because he gave one-on-one critiques, and I’ll forever cherish his words and advice. But the one I’ll always remember is Mary Ellen Mark. Her images, and words about them were what drove me to push myself further as an artist. Her photographs stopped you dead in your tracks, made your heart skip a beat, and your hands tremble. Honestly, all of those feelings are what truly excite me about photography, and when an image can do that to you, well it’s just the best thing ever, it fills your soul. That is what I love about photography, and what I strive for in my image making.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
I’ve been making photographs for over 15 years now. When I first began, I focused heavily on combining my photographs with other media such as metal, fabric, and wood. I’d print them in the darkroom and then attach them to wood boards with electrical tape, paint over them with gel medium, resin or wax, write on them with inks and charcoals, place objects onto them, sew them onto fabrics, manipulate them into sculptural pieces I’d specifically make out of clay or metal, create site specific installations in which to view them, and even make handmade books with them.

I loved making work with a strong narrative in mind, and would set out to capture the stories I envisioned in my head. I had things to say, and using my camera and creative process was a freeing way to do so. My work shifted quite a bit after the birth of my first child. I had both of my children during graduate school, and my work tends to be more on the personal side so I guess it’s no surprise that my MFA thesis focused mainly on this portion of my life. It was what was going on at the time and creating photographs of it was the best way for me to come to terms with this new stage of life that was definitely not part of the plan. Moving to the Southwest from the Midwest was another huge shift for me, and I began to see this in my early work as I settled into Tucson. I immediately fell in love with the desert, and the inspiration I draw from it has been an exciting addition to my photographs. You can’t please everyone with your work but it’s nice to see people find a bit of themselves within what you make, and if they get that feeling I spoke of earlier, the racing heart beat and trembling hands as they view your work, that is the end goal for me.

What responsibility, if any, do you think artists have to use their art to help alleviate problems faced by others? Has your art been affected by issues you’ve concerned about?
Artists have been creating work for years that focused on the times they were living in, and what could be done to fix the wrong and injustice and at the very least, bring it to light. Artists were the ones telling the stories to the public, creating work for them to see with their own eyes what maybe they never knew existed or chose to hide from. I think ultimately that is the role of an artist, but how you tell that story may be drastically different than another artist. The world we live in shapes us, and it’s up to us to do better than the last for the future.

We live in a time that is truly crucial to what the future holds, as far as if we will even have a world to live in. We have to keep telling the stories, visually getting them out there for everyone to see, whether they agree with them or not. Just the fact that they know what is happening, and that we as artists can inform them in a different way and hopefully shift them to action, is a very strong job that I think we all must take on within our work.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
You can view my current work on my website at I love to show as much as I can, either in exhibitions, print, or online. People can support my work by sharing it with others and coming to shows to see it in person when they can.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
© Shannon Smith

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