PROGRESS at Pecha Kucha New Orleans June 29th, 2017 / by Zack Smith

"So - I had been there, and I know what it’s like to have a grand idea that was mine and mine alone grow from the spark of inspiration. I know what it’s like to drop all reason, lose the concept of time and rush to create, only to have no tools construct, no foundation to begin the structure..." quote from Zack at Pecha Kucha Night New Orleans, June 29th, 2017

Pecha Kucha New Orleans allowed me to gain insight on my own photography and I am grateful.

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"Progress is knowing that you just showed someone that the story of them Is the most important factor in their success as a visual communicator…" - PK NOLA 6/29/17

I was recently asked to participate as a presenter at Pecha Kucha Night New Orleans (check them out HERE)and I jumped at the chance to show my photographs and speak on a the topic of Progress. My version of progress is different than most might think. For me it's not "forward progression" or "momentum" that defines PROGRESS. Progress is something that is attained inside the self, inside the community, inside the heart and mind. I'd like to share my speech and images here. I will send a link to the video when it's posted.

I’ve always loved a good story. My dad told stories so well you didn’t know what was real and what was true but it was all story, and you loved it. As a visual communicator, I love a good story more now that I get to tell the story of others. It is a challenge but i love what I do. I get to read in between the lines of dreams and emotions and pull the story from someone’s head and heart and show it to them.

Amanda Helm rides ashore a Mississippi River tree. ©Zack Smith 2012

Amanda Helm rides ashore a Mississippi River tree. ©Zack Smith 2012

So my story over the last 15 years I has sounded like a skipping record to myself, repeating these photographic philosophies I have made to help those that want to learn how to see like the camera sees.

“Shoot for the Wall”

“Intention in Capture vs Purpose in Presentation”

“Know the Why in each Exposure and find the Story”

“We don’t take snapshots, we make great photographs”

“Be a Student of Light”

Progress for me is seeing someone in the act of learning and seeing their mind in the awe of grasping a new concept. Owning it, and finally GETTING IT. There’s no greater feeling than seeing that light bulb go off in someone’s head…It starts as an ember glow, a hint of hope, a silent gasp that erupts into a confident creative tool that is sharp and ready to use

James Singleton on his front porch Bayou St. John New Orleans, LA. ©Zack Smith Photography

James Singleton on his front porch Bayou St. John New Orleans, LA. ©Zack Smith Photography

Not until I learned how to intentionally practice empathy and truly put myself in someone else’s confused, inquisitive, and thirsty mind did I see how to relate the concept of shutter speed, aperture, and focal length, Rear sync, shutter drag, bokeh, key light, rim light, chiaroscuro, and perspective as it relates to learning photography.

But at one time, I had no fucking clue. I only knew that my words needed the visual. I HAD to make photographs and I still do believe that this is my calling, why I was born or put here on this earth. 

So - I had been there, so I know what it’s like to have a grand idea that was mine and mine alone grow from the spark of inspiration. I know what it’s like to drop all reason, lose the concept of time and rush to create, only to have no tools construct, no foundation to begin the structure.

I remember what it was like to be driven and to drive your life not knowing where the hell you were going. I was mentoring with any photographer that would take me on assisting in the field, the darkroom, and even discussion the how’s and why’s of a particular photo. I was driven by the thirst for knowledge and the passion for growth. I sacrificed much, taking the only bathroom in my college apartment and turning it into a chemical darkroom to learn how to process film and print. I learned by doing, i learned by messing up, roll after roll after roll of film hanging in my apartment bathtub on clothespins and string

Ashlee Michot in her Field of Mary's, Arnaudville, LA ©Zack Smith Photography

Ashlee Michot in her Field of Mary's, Arnaudville, LA ©Zack Smith Photography

Teaching photograpy for me was a way to constantly remind myself that I came from the same place as so many inquiring minds and creative souls that don’t know where they’re going but don’t care, as long as there’s a story to be told, and photographed to be put on a wall.

So I kept teaching, putting myself in their shoes and in the process I was in turn learning the life lessons myself as I was watching and teaching others. I started to take my own advice to go inward in my own creative self and for me progress didn’t mean Upward, Onward and Some sort of success ….

It meant Inward, Soul, Heart, Self

Nick Slie in Lake Verrett swamp. ©Zack Smith Photography

Nick Slie in Lake Verrett swamp. ©Zack Smith Photography

“Shoot for the Wall” -

 

Means to make every composition count - own every mm of space on that piece of film or sensor and make your foreground, background, and subject make sense. We only put our best images on a wall...so why not shoot w/ the intention of making a print.

 

“Intention in Capture / Purpose in Presentation”

 

To make a great photograph we must know the WHY - why are we choosing this subject, in this place, with this light? Is this the moment of capture or is there a better one? Have we studied our environment, have we lived a day in our subjects shoes, do we know if the rays of of a backlit sun could provide better depth?....We must be students of our subjects and masters of it’s light.

 

Through teaching others I have realized that Progress isn’t about what new piece of gear you own, how many clients you have, who you photographed where and “if they Tweeted about it using your name and OMG i have 5 new followers!!”

Progress isn’t about being #1, being the best, or at the top of your game

Progress isn’t ONWARD UPWARD FORWARD

Progress is feeling a connection inside to another human being.

Progress is being confident in the tools of your own creativity.

Progress is knowing that you just showed someone that the story of them Is the most important factor in their success as a visual communicator as their story will be the fuel to find their “WHY” to shoot for their WALL.