Scrolling through Kenny Smith's photography portfolios reminds me of watching a good surfer. Each shot seems effortless, carefree, and the underlying connection he feels to his craft is obvious. It makes you wonder how much of this talent is natural and how much of it comes from hours of practice.
Smith himself puts much of it down to plain hard work.
“I’m a firm believer that you have to spend a certain amount of time doing anything before you start seeing a result, some people say 10,000 hours, and I think that's about right.”
Smith likes to shoot some things the way he sees it, and other things the way he wants to see it. According to his marketers, this means he falls into the style category of “lifestyle and active lifestyle” within commercial advertising. His website features advertising campaigns for the Gold Coast Sun's AFL team, the Ten Tenors world tour poster, FC Travel Solutions, Amanzi 2010 swimwear collection and Gold IP Lawyers, among others. Personal photos, portfolios and photo “series” are also shown on Smith's website. A series called “Dead Kooks” is one I would definitely recommend looking at.
The passion and quality that underlies all of Smith's images begins with the way he approaches each job. He makes sure he knows the background behind each commercial job he does, and tries to tell a story with each shot. “If I’m on a commercial job shooting a portrait of a bank CEO, you can be sure I’ve probably Googled him or her and read up what I could.”
It was Smith's Dad who first got him interested in photography. As he moved around often as a kid, he was exposed to a lot of stories about new people and new cultures that he could tell. When he was ten years old, he first started using his German Praktica SLR with a 50mm 1.8 lens.
He describes getting “hooked” not so much on the photographs themselves, as he often did not have the means to develop the film, but on “ the process, getting subjects to let you take their picture, and always carrying it around to see what would come up that would be photo worthy.”
Smith has always been creative. During his teenage years he put down his camera and picked up a bass guitar. This was the beginning of a good ten years playing in bands, where he met his now wife. With two kids before his 20th birthday, life became about “providing for his family” while his creative passions took a backseat. He had a “string of normal jobs” for a while, and Smith says it was working in TV and stage lighting where he learned other valuable skills of a good photographer, like assisting and grip, and the patience to work long hours.
Smith only returned to photography a few years ago. “I switched from my old film camera and bought a digital setup. I started shooting my personal family, and eventually friends and whatever I could. People started seeing my personal work and reacting really favourably to it, and so I started putting a portfolio together, and showing it to whoever would take a look. The rest is history.”
Unlike many photographers, Smith does not like to discriminate when it comes to sources of inspiration. Firstly, “former masters and pioneers of the craft like Ansell Adams, Cartier-Bresson & Lee Friedlander, and current greats like Norman Jean-Roy, Martin Schoeller & Dewey Nicks.” Movies are also good sources according to Smith. “A few that come to mind are The Lovely Bones by Peter Jackson, Transformers by Michael Bay, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World by Edgar Wright. Maybe not the most acclaimed by the critics, but they do it for me with the visuals.”
The difference between Smith and the thousands of other photographers out there is definitely this total commitment to his work. “Work hard. I don’t mean that in a wanky way, I mean that in a literal way. I physically pound the pavements, knock on doors, shoot lots of frames, show up an hour early, whatever it takes.”
Smith says he hopes the future is simply full of “more shooting, more sharing.” Creativity is a massive part of Smith's character. Even if he isn't taking photos further down the track he believes he will be “living creatively in some way.” He recognises he has been granted the rare ability to provide for his family by doing what he loves, and like a true fanatic, says “retirement is not for me, this is as good as it gets.”
Visit Kenny Smith's website