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Rising Stars: Meet Christine Lee Smith

Today we’d like to introduce you to Christine Lee Smith.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
In 2006, after loving and working in photography for several years, I started out into my own wedding and portrait photography business. I continued my commercial photography practice for over ten years working with amazing clients, photographing beautiful couples, families, and individuals. Towards the end of 2016, I started to feel burned out. I realized I was telling other people’s beautiful stories, but that deep inside me there were stories of my own to be told through my photography.

I attended a narrative photography workshop at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Colorado with photographer Amy Arbus around that time. There I learned how to translate my ideas into stories through my photography. I began branching out of my commercial photography practice into fine art photography, experimenting with my own personal stories that I had long wanted to share. I began to sense a need for a mentor as I navigated this new path in my photography and ended up attending a MFA (Master of Fine Arts) program at Azusa Pacific University. There I found many amazing mentors that helped me further my understanding of communicating through visual mediums and challenged me to pursue even more challenging projects.

After graduating in 2020, with two more photographic series’ under my belt — “Rose Portraits” and “Portraits on Estrangement” — I started work on my third body of work called “Fall Into the Sky.” This new series is a meditation on life while enduring the tragedies, losses, and grief of the past several years. It is currently on show now at SEEDS Gallery in Old Town Orange, CA (inside Full Circle Meaningful Market) through the end of October.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
Struggles have definitely been a companion on this journey to living into my art practice and identity. From internal struggles with self-doubt to external struggles like funding for the production on large bodies of work. Difficult circumstances have come from all sides.

What I learned, specifically from the difficulty of trying to finish a large format silver-gelatin photography project at the start of the pandemic, was that for as many challenges as I encountered, if I was willing to feel my anger or disappointment first, usually after there was a way forward to the next step. It didn’t look like I wanted or intended it to look, but if I was patient and reached out for help, it frequently came in abundance.

For example, during the early months of the pandemic, when I was nearing the end of my MFA and needed to finish my project, the only darkroom enlarger I had access to wasn’t capable of printing the large 20″x24″ size I needed. After failing to find a replacement enlarger, I ended up learning how to vertically use the enlarger and mount my paper on the wall across the room to get the print done. It wasn’t how I planned on making all 13-prints, but this workaround allowed me to continue and finish the work.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I am an award-winning portrait photographer that specializes in large format analog photographic processes. What sets me apart from other photographers is that a driving force behind my work are questions. In my practice, I both seek answers to questions but also pose questions back to my sitters (those whose portraits I take). Those questions and dialogues we have during the photography session translate through the work all the way to the viewer. This dynamic of curiosity offers an opportunity for viewers, who are willing, to have their own empathetic capacities deepened and expanded as they sit with the finished portraits.

We’d be interested to hear your thoughts on luck and what role, if any, you feel it’s played for you?
I don’t believe in luck. I personally benefit from oppressive systems in society that affords me un-earned privilege. I have also received significant amounts of generosity over the years from family, friends, and supporters of my work.

As I have become increasingly aware of the inequities in our society, especially towards under-represented artists, I am dedicated to finding and supporting the vital and necessary artwork of under-represented artists. For me, that happens in my classrooms where I teach photography and its history, through my curation practice where I exhibit artwork created by under-represented artists, and by financially supporting under-represented artists and groups working to balance the scales of inequity.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
All images © Christine Lee Smith.

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