Fluster Magazine is an Italian-based publication covering art and artists worldwide. In this showcase with a very in-depth interview, they ask many insightful questions about creativity and my process. Fluster is a cultural creative project about personal expression, culture, reportage and recreation from the readers’ different perspectives through dedicated galleries and headings produced by the editors. The magazine is published both in English and Italian. I would consider this the definitive interview to date about my technique and thoughts on the surrealist photomontage medium. Interviewer Marinos Tsagkarakis asked some insightful questions, and I’m hugely grateful to have been featured. Here’s the article, with a few links interspersed to related rsmithing.com content:
Richard Smith explores unexpected interrelationships between everyday images through surrealist photomontage. Working with elements from nature, pedestrian objects, specially-commissioned photos, and scenes from his travels and neighborhood, he fuses these components into ethereal yet cohesive views that transcend their origins. A self-taught graphic artist with 20+ years of professional experience, Smith incorporates assimilated photographic techniques and modern photomanipulation approaches into his hand-crafted compositions at rsmithings.com.
Interviewed by Marinos Tsagkarakis
Hi Richard or do you prefer “rsmithing”? Really, what are the roots of nickname “rsmithing” that you chose to use as an artist?
Hello, and thanks for asking — just call me Richard. The “rsmithing” term is my quick online handle, giving some more personalization to my otherwise very standard name. It originated way back when Google rolled out Gmail. By the time I got on board, “rsmith” was already taken, so I added “-ing” as a concise means of personalization. In a metaphorical sense, I like to think of it as the verb form of my name, representing action. It also works for “Richard + Smith + Blogging = rsmithing,” which is my blog (rsmithing.com) and “Richard + Smith + Things = rsmithings” which is where I showcase my art (rsmithings.com). This is the most I’ve ever revealed in one place about the rsmithing handle!
Richard, how did you come to photography and graphic art?
I’ve always loved art, and I remember getting a thrill from when my mom would post my drawings on the refrigerator. Come puberty, I discover rock ‘n’ roll and take up music, and I also get into producing flyers. Little did I know I was teaching myself graphic design. Finally in college, it all comes together at the university newspaper when I discovered Aldus Pagemaker — the digital way of doing what I’d been creating by hand with photocopiers and cutouts from newspapers. From there, I decided on a career in graphic design, and it’s been great. Along the way I continued making music and writing, but graphic art — and more so these days, photography, is the passion that sets me on fire.
Please, tell us more about the special technique you have developed for the composition of your images.
My technique is this: I constantly snap photos of whatever’s around that I find interesting. Once the urge to create strikes, I then start a synthesizing journey. Sometimes I know exactly where I’m headed; other times I’m just along for the ride, letting magic from the universe do the driving.
My process is like carving a sculpture, with the edges of my fingers forming lines to define shapes and reveal serendipitous relationships — not unlike physically placing individual elements as in a paper collage — except I do this through masking, blending and mimicking established photographic techniques like solarization or vignetting. Each piece is meticulously crafted with these and other ingredients, using direct touch to form a hierarchy of narrative. A final composition is the culmination of fusing disparate elements into a kind of empyreal abstract union.
From a technical point of view, I mainly use a now-extinct app called PhotoForge2 on my iPhone, which functions much like Photoshop with layers and masking, only in what I see as a more personal manner. With a smartphone app, your fingers become the brushes; your movements become the brush strokes, and you literally cradle a creation as it comes into existence. Far from being impersonal through a degree of technology, I believe art created this way is extremely intimate. The end result taken in by viewers is something the artist has stared at, in hand, literally touching over and over as the elements come into place.
Your images are constructed in many different levels, composed from multiple images. What is the visual message that you want to pass to the people who see your work?
I want people who see my work to understand that beauty is everywhere and that we should take time to notice it. Art surrounds us, whether in architecture, words, music, or just in nature. And having an appreciation for that can make life more meaningful. Through surrealist juxtaposition and taking artistic license with the limits of visual reality, I aim to slow down viewers’ processes of perception enough so that a “wow” moment can happen. Maybe I do that at first with something that’s just visually striking on an initial level, but then layers of meaning can emerge and previously unexplored connections can form. That’s really the most exciting thing for me about any art — experiencing meaning through new connections.
Do you prefer to create color or B&W images and why so?
I prefer creating and viewing black and white images. While there’s nothing wrong with color and I greatly respect many artists who use a full range of hues, for me working strictly in black and white is part of distilling intent and message down to the essence. Also, blending stuff happens faster when there are just two colors. =)
Richard, how long have you been practiced on this special technique?
I’ve incorporated collage and photomontage in my professional (non-artist-day-job) work for at least a decade now. Much as I do these days for personal expression, I would work montages into advertising materials wherever the fit was right for the client and project. But I’ve been in love with surrealism and, specifically, the photomontage format ever since I was a teenager.
Are there any other special process/composition techniques that you have practiced, too?
Sometimes I experiment with rules. Working within a set of restrictions can be oddly liberating and extremely satisfying. What can you do in only one hour? What can you do only with photographs from this weekend? What can be done with photos only from one certain location? I’ve often thought, “why do anything if you can do everything?” So the idea of working within limitations and then pushing myself to do all I can in those paramaters is a process I enjoy and recommend.
Are there any specific photographers or artists who have inspired your work?
I owe everything to Jerry Uelsmann. He is the undisputed master of photomontage and my ultimate inspiration. I’ve even done some recreations of his work in my format just to grow my understanding of his vision. I always want to acknowledge Uelsmann wherever possible since his work has been such an inspiration. If anyone reading this likes my work, I recommend immediately seeking out Jerry Uelsmann. It was a mind-blowing experience when I first saw his creations, and hopefully others will have that experience as well.
My direct visual inspirations also include fine artists such as Dalí and Escher; photographers Man Ray, Francesca Woodman, and Minor White; along with contemporary creators like Sion Fullana and Tommy Ingberg.
As I know, you are a musician, too. You play guitar and sang. Do you think that your relationship with music has influenced your work on photography and how is that?
Most definitely, music influences my art. It’s as obvious as the occasional song title or lyric being adapted as a title of one of my visual compositions. Personally, I feel creativity comes from one area in the soul, and it manifests itself in different ways — be that visual art, writing, music, dance… or whatever captures your passion. I loved art before music as a child; I loved music before writing as an adolescent; I loved writing along with art and music as a young adult; and I’ve managed to make a living as a creative person as an artist and writer who also plays music for fun. Inspiration and expression can come from anywhere — you just have to be open to the experience and do what you can to get it out there.
A common characteristic of your images is accuracy and symmetry. We could say that this is mainly a special characteristic of European photographers and artists and that American schools of art are more liberal. As a man who has grown in an American thinking environment, how do you explain that?
Having a formal understanding of graphic design is now in my DNA, so I naturally consider grids, the rule of thirds, white space, contrast, and other traditional elements in my compositions. I employ elements of symmetry and accuracy in my own art as one more way of drawing a viewer in. The human eye generally seeks to understand and organize information, so things like balance and detail help make this happen — part of what I do is to establish this foundation, then take the mind’s eye even deeper through subtle deviation. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time in Rome, Florence and Paris, and have a deep reverence for the masters, so maybe that figures in my art at a subconscious level. I would sure like to think so.
Do you thing that your images as a work of art, are closer to photography, painting, graphic design or something else?
It all starts with photography, but I certainly don’t consider or bill myself a photographer at all. I have a sense of what makes a good photo or interesting subject, but I’m always thinking in terms of ingredients for photomontages. It’s certainly not graphic design, since that implies a more formal structure than what my pieces have, and also implies missing elements like typography, lines, or mainstream commercial appeal.
My images are closer to painting or even sculpture, since forming the compositions is such a physical act of moving things into place, bending reality into new shapes.
If you had the possibility -only for one day- to photograph one famous person, one object and one place in order to compose an image, what would you choose?
My famous person choice would be Dalí just so we could hang out. Or maybe Jimi Hendrix for the same reason, and to see him play with my own eyes in the same room. An ultimate object photograph for me would be Stonehenge, right up close, really taking in the textures and incredible angles from inside and around the rocks. If I could compose an image in one place, anywhere? That’s easy: Hawaii. It’s paradise.
(Images © Richard Smith)
More about Richard Smith’s work here