Pictured: Aline Smithson, 1953-present


“…my children have never made prints of their photographs, preferring to see them on a screen. It made me realize the potential loss of photography as an object for future generations…my children may not have any images to show their grandchildren as they rely on social media sites to host their photographic heritage. Aline Smithson

Aline Smithson is a photographer working exclusively with film and focusing on creating fine art images as her personal work. The seed of her passion for photography dates back to her decade as a fashion editor in New York. She worked with renowned photographers – Patrick Demarchelier, Arthur Elgort and Mario Testino.

Los Angeles

Aline Smithson’s husband took a job in Los Angeles, so she quit fashion writing and returned to her hometown with him.

One day she found her uncle’s 1960s Rolleiflex film camera. “I fell in love with medium format and discovered that photography is a language that allows me to have a visual voice,” she said.

I fell in love with medium format and discovered that photography is a language that allows me to have a visual voice.

Aline Smithson with her Rolleiflex twin lens camera.

“Except for a few early lessons, I’m self-taught,” said Aline Smithson, “I’ve spent years learning my craft in the damp darkroom, learning to see – I also spend tons of time looking at photography for my blog, Lenscratch, where I feature the work of a different photographer every day.I’m still very much a student and always curious about the intention behind someone’s photographs.

Aline Smithson knows that working as a fine art photographer won’t pay the bills for a long time, if ever. “I wouldn’t say making the photographs was a sacrifice,” she said. “But everything around it — my teaching, my blogging, my writing, my work as a critic and juror, tutoring — it all takes away from the time I have to do my own work.”

Shooting film

Aline Smithson has always used film. She bought a digital camera at Costco but never took it out of the box. She finally gave it away.

“I love slowed down nature or working with film…I love the traditions of the cinematic experience: loading a roll and waiting to see the results,” she said. “I love rolling my 120 film tight and then licking the sticker that holds it that way. Each roll is a little gift. I do all my editing in camera, taking very few frames. I also love having a tangible legacy to pass on… if my hard drive fails, I still have my photos.

Portraits as works of art

Aline Smithson is a specialist in the production of fine art portraits. She works alone. She does the styling, makeup, and wardrobe often by saving up or borrowing clothes from friends.

“I find doing portraits to be a collaborative process where the experience becomes a two-way look as the subject and I reveal ourselves to each other,” she said.

“For the most part, I create works close to home, using subjects that are family, friends, neighbors and friends of friends,” she said. “This familiarity with place and person allows for an intimacy and camaraderie, where my models trust my desire to present them with dignity or humor, but always in a way that celebrates who they are” (opening photo , bottom row, all images .)

digital black hole

Aline Smithson scans her negatives. She had a hard drive failure that stored 20 years of those scans.

“During my attempt to recover the files, only half came back in an accessible format. The rest of the files were corrupt, each completely unique in how the machine damages and reinterprets pixels,” said Aline Smithson. “This alarming result made me start to consider ever-changing digital platforms and file formats, and realized that much of the data we produce today could eventually fall into a black hole. of inaccessibility.”

runaway state

“I created a series of portraits and then I wounded the film emulsion to speak about this loss and the potential disappearance of the photographic image.”

“As an analog photographer, rather than letting the machine have the last word, I cyanotyped over my damaged digital scans,” said Aline Smithson in an interview with the Griffin Museum.

“I use portrait silhouettes from my archives to conceal and reveal corruption. By using historical processes to create a physical object, I guarantee that this image will not be lost in the current clash between the digital file and the materiality of a photographic print.

Fugue State Revisited is the body of works from this lost disc. It draws attention to digital files that may not retain their original state or even become unreadable in the future.

The Getty Research Institute notes that “although you are still able to see family photos printed over 100 years ago, a CD containing digital files from as little as 10 years ago may be unreadable due to rapid changes to the software and devices we use to access digital. content” (opening photo, top row, last three images.)

Words for Beginner Photographers

“First, stay anonymous for as long as possible. I know it sounds strange, but the years of creating photographs just for myself have been some of the best years on this journey. Make your mistakes and try new ideas privately.

“Second, be humble and grateful. Thank everyone. Take the time to recognize what others contribute to your work and your journey.

“And third, find your own voice – don’t copy others. Use your own life to inspire yourself, tell your stories, be fearless. Your best teacher is failure.

Sources: Everything in the photo, Griffin Museum, Hasselblad.

Read more stories about inspiring photographers in On Photography.

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