Produce, Investigate and Revisit
After being the assistant of famous fashion photographer David Sims, Steve Smith breakthrough came with the publication of his photographic work in the magazine Sleazenation. He went on to work for Dazed & Confused, shooting a series of small individual portraits. As far as fashion photography is concerned however, it was his work with i-D magazine which catapulted Smith into acclaim.
Smith initial experience as an assistant enabled him to devise his own fashion stories to show and publish. His personal work led him to collaborate with David Lamb, GQ Style, Marc Anthony and Edward Enninful. Having established these links, he was able to work in the commercial side of fashion with offers from InStyle magazine, The Saturday Telegraph and for stylist Claire Richardson.
Smith has done portrait work for a number of rising stars before they reached true celebrity status – they include Dominic Cooper, Daniel Craig, Holly Willoughby, Tess Daly and Lisa Snowdon. Smith is now based in the north east of Scotland and lectures photography at North East Scotland College.
Steve, what is your photographic style?
I wouldn’t say I have a particular photographic style, but I am able to recognise in my work the influences that inspired me. There is a great risk for photographers to replicate the style of other photographers they admire or have worked with. Having said this you expect some things to remain with you.
I learned a lot about lighting from assisting David Sims, for example. Lighting shapes the final photograph. I still use what I learned with David in my current work.
How crucial is it to develop a theme when you create a photoshoot?
It’s good to produce a ‘theme’ but I think this is often done rather naively. I believe it’s more important to consider instead, a sense of character.
When you reflect on the fashion shift from glamour to grunge, you notice the importance of identity and individualism. Building characters to create a story is crucial.
What have you been working on recently?
My most recent piece of work was for TREND magazine. I shot a fashion story three weeks ago for them. I had not done any fashion photography in the previous five years.
After taking a break from fashion photography, what inspired you to begin shooting again?
I wished to exercise my creative and problem solving muscles. For personal reasons, I simply did not feel like shooting fashion in the past few years. When TREND approached me, I felt inspired to start again. It’s one of the few fashion magazines in the North East that I felt was worthy to shoot for. I really enjoyed it, it was an excellent process.
How being based in Aberdeen affects your work?
It is positive in some respects. There is a lot of Aberdeen that hasn’t been investigated photographically, but it can be difficult from Aberdeen, to reach a larger audience and have your work showcased.
In terms of fashion photography there is little competition; it is incredibly difficult to find photographer who work in fashion full time.
You now teach photography at North East Scotland College. What’s the most crucial piece of advice you tell your students?
Each student has an individual mind-set and armoury of skills and abilities, so it’s very hard to narrow it down to just one piece of advice. But I think production is the main thing. You have to produce, investigate and revisit.
Do you find it difficult to cast local models?
I often struggle with my students when they say they can’t find a model… They’re everywhere! I think there’s an element of laziness and naivety. When
I think people believe there is such a thing as ‘modelesque’ when they start out in fashion. No one is ‘modelesque’.
If you look at the history of i-D magazine and what they call ‘straight ups’ – people photographed head on against a simple background – you’ll often find models are street cast. It’s about individuality and character. The question to ask is: What makes somebody worthy to be adopted by a modelling agency for commercial gain?
What do you try to achieve in a photo-shoot? Is there an emphasis on quality? Do you seek to evoke a certain mood/attitude?
They go hand in hand. Regardless of the photo-shoot, quality should never be compromised. You set your own standards.
Do your Scottish roots influence you in anyway?
Background and experience are important, whether you come from a rural or an urban environment. It usually influences your aesthetics and what you like. Aberdeen had a strong revivalist mod movement in the 80’s … in those days there was an army of scooters parked outside my school. There was a particular clothing style, the way young people presented themselves and the menace they conveyed inspired me. Whether that is Scottish or not could be questioned… I don’t think it is.
Do you think we have good facilities in Scotland for fashion photography?
If you are a fashion photographer or a fashion student in Aberdeen, and you are restless to work in the creative, exciting fashion environment, you’d struggle. There are not that many people involved with the fashion industry here. In the five years since I have returned to Aberdeen from London, I can’t name one person who works solemnly as a fashion photographer. I think living in this part of the world makes it difficult to find opportunities to be creative. If we were in a larger city with more publications, stylists, hair and makeup teams and studios, things might be different.
Steve Smith was interviewed by Ashleigh Duncan during the first half of 2013 for a project between Heriot Watt University and Modeconnect