Jason Paige Smith
Maine the Way: When did you know you wanted to be a photographer? Was that always your direction or how did you end up following this path?
Jason Paige Smith: I was working as freelance writer for a small publication in Denver while I was going through grad school for journalism out in Colorado and my wife bought me a camera for my birthday one year. While my wife was working nights in the ER, as a nurse, I would go to the local book stores and spend a lot of time reading about photography and looking through countless books by different shooters. After a while I started bringing my camera along on interviews and making quick portraits of the people I profiled to go with the printed pieces. I guess that's where it started for me, but portraits weren't my main focus at the time. I had a great photojournalism professor named Kevin Moloney, and after school I started stringing for several of the newspapers along the Front Range. Photojournalism was my first path in photography and one I really enjoyed.
My passion for portrait photography came out of this experience--the idea of telling a story about someone through a portrait made sense to me because of my time working as a photojournalist.
MTW: Where do you draw inspiration?
JPS: Man, that's a tough thing to pin down. Ideas for things like personal projects seem to show up at the times I least expect them, and sometimes I don't know if they're good ideas at first until I have time to think them through. I'm a believer in writing ideas down and thinking through the concept as much as possible before getting started.
Inspiration for a specific shoot, such as an environmental portrait, usually happens when I'm at the location. I will always show up with ideas for the shoot ahead of time, but some of the shots I find most successful are ones I would have never thought of before I get to the location.
MTW: How has living in Maine influenced your work?
JPS: Maine is a great place, and I love the people here. I've always enjoyed getting out and seeing new places, meeting new people and sharing their stories. There are incredible stories in Maine. And I think living in Maine and has certainly influenced how I see things or approach projects in a positive way.
MTW: Any tips for getting out of a creative rut?
JPS: You just have to keep shooting. Start a personal project--personal work for me is incredibly important. Go places you haven't been. Talk to people you've never met. Try new techniques. I think it's different for everyone, but just changing things up can create opportunities you never knew where out there.
MTW: Are you working on any personal projects?
JPS: I'm currently working on a personal project right now called The Oldest State. Demographically, Maine is the oldest state in the nation, and I'm creating a portrait series of people in Maine who are older, but are still out there doing really interesting things or have lead fascinating lives and made some great contributions to the state as a whole. I'm just getting started on this project, but it's been such a meaningful project for me already. I'm getting to meet people from all over the state and telling their amazing stories through photos. I'm always looking for suggestions, so if anyone knows a person out there in the state who has a story to tell, just let me know!
MTW: What has been your proudest piece?
JPS: Tough question. The Wall Street Journal asked me a couple years ago to make a portrait of Robert Coles, who was a Pearl Harbor survivor. He was 92 at the time and was planning on making a trip back to Hawaii for the first time since the attack for the 75-year anniversary. His living room was filled with memories of his time in the service and his lifelong connection to that day in history. I was also asked to get an audio recording of him talking about that day; I sat with him on his couch and listened to his first-hand account of those hours, and, despite his age, he remembered everything like it had just happened the previous week. I'm not sure if it would be necessarily a 'proudest' piece, but it was certainly a special experience to be a photographer that day.
MTW: Any advice for aspiring photographers?
JPS: If you want to make a career out of it, follow your passions, but be sure to spend time learning about the business side of photography as well.
Cam & Christine