Colin Smith is from Rockford, IL. He received a BFA from nearby Columbia College in Chicago and his MFA from Yale, where he received the Ward Cheney Memorial Award. He currently lives and works in Los Angeles, making art, playing in Smelly Tongues, and photographing professionally.
Do you have any animosity towards Collin M. Smith portrait photographer?
Well, the double 'L' thing kinda puts a buffer between us, so it's ok. The kind of photography that is on display there is like Void Fill, the styrofoam shapes that keep bits of stuff from not shifting in packages, it has its place and someone is happy that it is there.
How was photographing Aziz Ansari? Was he charming?
It was nice getting to do that, I hadn't seen Parks and Rec when it happened the first time, but I had heard his standup and liked it. I knew he was also part of Human Giant, but I hadn't really watched that either, so I wasn't overly anxious. Between the first and most recent of the sessions I had spent a few sick days streaming his current show; and, man, that shits funny as hell. I was a bit more self-conscious the second go 'round, but ultimately I think the images were more interesting and had my hand as an artist in them a bit more. I think it's a damn hard challenge to make a job photographing as satisfying and fulfilling as making art. It's something that is interesting to me though: how to be a jobber and also an artist using the same means. I can find a lot of inspiration in people who approach photography only as a tool and not necessarily a way to express themselves artistically. There is a lot that you can learn from someone who makes really good advertising work, it's just another way that can be used when it comes to making art.
Aziz bought me lunch both times, I'd say that was pretty damn charming.
Do you find your Scorched Earth work, which is sort of loose and open, and your High Places work, which feels very controlled, is a deconstruction of some of the things that are going on in the Untitled series?
The Untitled series was made in a psychotic anxiety-filled swirl during grad school. It was scary getting to that work. I really like it, but I still cannot remove my personal tension from it. After grad school I moved immediately to Los Angeles from New Haven and I continue to try my hand at SoCal living. I have even surfed. On the other hand the Scorched Earth work comes from a place of decompression and exploration. It has the same ideas and issues I was working through with my art in graduate school, but it is the yang to the yin of how it has and continues to come together. With this body of work I am walking for hours hunting for something all the while enjoying the aimlessness of it all. I love being keyed into life on that level, where I have to be aware of everything at all times. It is very different than the working process I had for years previously, which was a bit more contained and pre-thought out; more shut down. So no, even though I think it all fits into the same conceptual vase. The deconstruction is in the method that I am arriving to these concepts now.
The High Places work is more commission work. It's me trying to not distinguish between Art and Work on my website. I think it is more interesting to try and make it all my own and not segregate one from the other.
How did you come to photography and what role did punk rock / hardcore play in it?
I started photographing after a Photo 101 course that I had to complete for the Illustration degree I was perusing at the time. I always wanted to be an artist, but I was terrified of never finding any work, so I thought illustration was perfect- I could draw pretty well and I figured it would be a good way to earn a living, but it was shit. In my first Illustration class I learned how to make a calendar. Alternatively, I just thought photography was endlessly interesting. I kept taking photo courses and, eventually, I stopped taking any illustration classes at all and changed my degree, but I knew right away all I ever wanted to do was photograph, it just took me a bit to get off my ass and trust that feeling.
Music, on the other hand, was instantly there, I have always been obsessed with it. My grandfather played in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and there was always music being played in the house. Pretty early on my step brother took me to my first local punk show, and that was kind of it for me, right away all I did was go to shows. I can still remember how scary and exciting that first one was. During college I met a guy, Rob Karlic, at this crappy job I had who, randomly, was also getting his photography degree at Columbia College. He had the same obsession over music and photography, and turned me on to so much at the time, it was insane. We would bump into each other in the dark room and annoy everyone else by blasting our music. Eventually we started my first shitty band, The Worst. Those years were perfect, it was this time of complete discovery, my love of music fed my love of photography and vice-versa.
How does Smelly Tongues and music play into your visual art? are they two unrelated things?
They are related in the sense that the personality of my art is similar as the music I make, I can tend towards a darker view of things. Unlike art, being in a band is only interesting to me when everyone is contributing. I get to be a fucking dictator with my photos, but when I'm playing with three other people and I try to pull that kinda control I get called a princess. Music is immediately, visceral for me; whereas art is something that is more of a slow burn, but they both feed my incessant need to create.
When is Smelly Tongues coming east? Any plans to record?
We are going to release a 12" on Urinal Cake records in the near-ish future. I hope we can get out east, I want to have a Midwest / East Coast tour sometime soon.
How was Chicago as a punk / hardcore scene growing up? All that comes to mind when I think of Chicago is Naked Raygun, Los Crudos, and Victory Records.
Victory wasn't even on my radar, most of that is crap.
My stomping ground days revolved around the Fireside Bowl and this skate park in Rockford called The Pit; then, when I moved to Chicago I was lucky to befriend a group of people that were loosely based around this zine called Horizontal Action. It was around this zine and the people who created it that a bunch of rad bands coalesced, and this cool platform for local and traveling bands was created. It was all done through people who genuinely loved music and needed to fill a void. There were so many good bands, Vee Dee, Functional Blackouts, Tyrades, Hot Machines, White Outs, The Ponys, the list can go on and on. This was the early aughts and it was a really fertile time to play and go to shows in Chicago.
Anything we should keep a look out for art wise?
Small venues and DIY spaces.