"Between the Shutterclick" Great Photography is Listening, Learning, and being Present. / by Zack Smith

Most probably my first photographic portrait c.1983, Lafayette, LA

Most probably my first photographic portrait c.1983, Lafayette, LA

As I grow older in life I am blessed to have the hindsight to remember what was so important to me at different phases of my photographic career. I can clearly remember my Bright White Light phaseIn the fall of 1997 I realized that the camera could tell the stories I saw with my eyes better than the pen to page. For the next few years all I wanted to do was take pictures. I carried my Canon AE-1 around my shoulder everywhere I went and raised it to my eye in the most natural reaction to the moments in front of me.

The passion and the drive was there but the technical mastery was not. 

You must know the rules before you break them: Learning the technical side of Photography; Summer 2000.

For the first few years I was winging it, faking it to make it, but I wasn't making the stride I felt I needed to be in total control. I worked my ass off for a year: 4am-12p graphics operator for a TV station, 3p-5p cross country coach at my old high school then 7-11p at Semolina's. Yeah, I did that for a year while saving money for a summer course at Rocky Mountain School of Photography www.rmsp.com where I could block out the noise of life and immerse myself in nothing but the craft and mastery of my new muse. It had to be done.

The next six or so years I continued to follow the pull of live music in New Orleans, photographing the clubs every night. The Dragon's Den, House Of Blues, Tipitina's, DBA, The Shim Sham Club, The Matador, and the Dixie Brewery were a few of the clubs I'd frequent to witness the energy of music. I never left the house with out my Nikon n90s and the only 3 lenses I owned: 24mm f2.8, 50 f1.8, 85mm 1.8. They were with me at all times - laid out on the big monitor at Tipitina's... lens caps and back caps strewn everywhere as I followed the music where it went.

The most important thing to me was to shoot as much as I could, make relationships with as many bands and musicians and promoters as I could. I brought my portfolios over to every club showing them what I could do. Did I care there was no money in doing what I was doing? Absolutely not - it was all for a higher power, a calling, a vision. I HAD to photograph, I HAD to not miss a single show, second line, or funeral. I went to them all....

As a young photographer in New Orleans, photography for me was answering a higher power, a calling, a vision. I HAD to photograph, I could NOT miss a show, a second line, or a funeral. The camera led me and I followed...

After years of photographing in New Orleans, I had attained so many of the things I had dreamed of. Bands were calling me to do their album covers, EPK's, website content. Organizers and promoters were hiring me to shoot their events, and even The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and French Quarter Fest called to hire me on as staff photographer. 

At this time I was feeling the pull of portraiture and the stories of the eyes, the weight of the soul.

I could tell I was losing interest in being an "observer" and wanted to be a "director" because I started dreaming scenes in my head. Scenes that could only accomplished in very controlled, but creative, environments. I started putting up backdrops on street corners, bringing my lights to parties, gatherings, and festivals like Festival Acadiens, Voodoo Fest, Chaz Fest and more just to have the opportunity to work with different types people. For me then, it was all about finding people's comfort zones, the best versions of themselves... from total strangers to great friends. The challenge for me was the mystery and the great reward as I was asked to be an "observer" AND a "director".

For me now, being a good photographer has less to do with the camera than ever before.

In the last few months I have really relied on my abilities to listen, really listen, to my clients visual needs. I need to be present with my subject and learn as much as I can about them. I need to do my research online and my intuitive research as a listener. As a photographer and visual communicator I am asked more for my insight and input on how images should feel and represent my client and how they are integrated into their brand. I am thinking less and less about the buttons and apertures and more about what questions to ask my subject to get the best out of them, their best. I am reading books on philosophy and brand identity, I am learning how to find new ways of teaching and communicating photographic principles. It's a new way for me, but change is how it's always been. Change is hard at first but always brings forth new life. 

The most important thing for me is to be right sided in my own life, mind, and heart. Oh, and listen...always listen.