May 19, 2010
Interview with Aline Smithson
May 19, 2010
Living in this constantly developing technical world, where we all tend to struggle between the draw of the past and the demands of the present, I can personally relate to your series, In Case of Rain. How did this series first evolve for you?
I was sitting in the living room of a summer house we spend time in each year. The house has been in my husband’s family since the late 1800’s and each generation has left behind summer passions—books, games, toys, magazines. I realized that my children, when not swimming in the lake or hiking through the woods, were disinterested in anything that wasn’t electronic—and as much as I tried to wean them away from their iPods, phones, and computers, I realized that ultimately it is a losing battle and the virtual world is now the real world for my children.
It also made me think about how many of those “summer passions” are now available on a computer screen. While creating this body of work, the Kindle was launched, and it only validated that that future generations will have very little that is tactile in their world, nothing to hold and cherish, nothing pass on to their children. And those thoughts have made me feel a sense of urgency about preserving the exquisite objects and texts that we had the privilege of having influenced our lives.
Have your children seen this series? If yes, how do they respond to it?
My son and I have discussed the series and he has concluded that at this point in his life, he is more interested in looking forward. The technological world is more exciting and important to him than things from the past (he does exclude books in these thoughts). As a DJ and music producer, he is excited about how the music world is constantly transforming and also excited to be in on the ground floor of it’s evolution.
This question created an interesting dialogue with my daughter. At 21, she feels like she has a foot in both worlds, remembers many of these objects from her childhood, but also feels like the pull of technology is stronger and more important in her world.
Where did you take these photographs?
I have photographed in Massachusetts, New York City, and in my own home in Los Angeles.
Looking at this project, my first physical reaction was feeling like I could actually smell the books! It was as if I entered a space that I knew, even though I obviously have never been there. My point is, I feel like people will immediately “enter” this space with familiarity and comfort. I wonder if our children and grandchildren will ever know that comfort. Is this series a way of holding this kind of space in time?
Exactly, but not so much the space, as the objects themselves. I would get lost in what I was photographing, put the camera down, and just start turning pages or enjoying the graphics, colors, and incredible printing quality, especially with the children’s books and games. In some cases, I felt like I was opening a tomb and looking at things that literally hadn’t been touched in 50 years. I think we are always drawn to what is familiar, even if it was something we were exposed to in our grandparent’s homes and not something we interacted with on a daily basis.
I think the way our children will find comfort will be very different, more passive, and less inclined to preserve things. How DO you preserve thousands of e-mails, texts, you tubes, Hulu, BBM’s? And what forms of communication will they share with their children. A few years ago, my parents gave me all of my thin blue Air-Mail letters I had sent them when I was in Europe when I was in college. When my own children were in Europe, I only received e-mails (and yes, I printed them out!).
How do you feel about the technological developments in photography? Are you for or against digital photography? Is change a good thing?
I own two digital cameras, and honestly have never used them. I will get around to it, but I love my ancient twin lens Rolleiflex and getting–to-be ancient Hassleblad, and I love toy cameras. Sometimes I feel like I make it very hard for myself, working with film, using the darkroom, continuing to hand paint images, when shooting digital would be so much more time and cost effective. But this is all personal. I celebrate anyone that makes images, no matter how they achieve them. I do feel as if there are two worlds of image-makers these days, and sometimes the worlds become very exclusive, which is a loss.
What concerns me more is the preservation of images. How do most non-professional photographers hand down their family photos to the next generation? Do they hand them a computer and hope that future generations will still be able to access them? How long will jpgs last on the computer or a CD. History is going to take a big hit in terms of recording our legacy. And the ironic thing is that people are photographing and communicating more than ever before. Everyone is a photographer if they have a cell phone.
What artists have inspired you over the years? Why them?
I have always been more inspired by painters – of course, Whistler is a favorite, but so is Deibenkorn and Rothko. A ton of fashion photographers inspired me when I was a fashion editor—Guy Bourdin, Paolo Roversi, Horst—so many. And as a fine art photographer, Matt Mahurin was an early influence. Now the people that inspire me are photographers that continue to make quality work drawn from something personal—Phil Toledano, Catherine Opie, Dave Jordano, Jane Fulton Alt, Kevin Miyasaki, to name a few. And even more importantly, photographers that have found a way to use their photography to give back, like Gloria Baker Feinstein, Kate Orne, and Julia Dean. And finally, photographers that do the hard work like Bruce Haley and other war photographers.
What would you say is your definition of personal success as a photographer?
The longer I pursue this photographic life, the more that answer comes down to the work. It’s not so much the exhibitions, the getting published, or the museum show any more, it’s creating work that keeps me awake at night, that makes me excited and stimulated and feeling passionate. As someone who writes a daily blog on photography, I find myself inspired by the incredible stories and images that photographers are able to produce. It’s pretty great to feel a part of such an amazing community of individuals that look at the world with a discerning eye.
Ultimately, I look at all of it as a success and appreciate how much it enriches my life.
After a career as a New York Fashion Editor and working along side the greats of fashion photography, Aline Smithson discovered the family Rolleiflex and never looked back. Now represented by galleries across the country and published throughout the world, Aline continues to create her award-winning photography with humor, compassion, and a 50-year-old camera. Her work has been featured in numerous publications including the PDN Photo Annual, Communication Arts Photo Annual, Eyemazing, Artworks, Shots, Pozytyw, and Silvershotz magazines. She has exhibited widely including solo shows at the Griffin Museum of Photography, the Oswald Gallery, and Wallspace Gallery in Seattle. Aline has been the Gallery Editor for Light Leaks Magazine, writes and edits the blog, Lenscratch, and has been curating exhibitions for a number of galleries and on-line magazines. She was nominated for The Excellence in Photographic Teaching Award in 2008 and 2009 and for the Santa Fe Prize in Photography in 2009 by the Santa Fe Center of Photography. She is a 2009 juror for Critical Mass, and will be a reviewer at Review LA in 2010.