I stood in the middle of my school ground, this also happened to be
the rugby ground, the soccer ground, softball diamond, the 400m track.
There was also a long jump strip that ended in sawdust tucked in along
the boundary fence. I’d been away for several years, living in another
town, my father had been offered a promotion. What I couldn’t get over
was how small every thing looked when I returned. I thought at first
maybe the school had sold some of the grounds so people could build
houses, but this wasn’t the case. Memory does strange things, plays
Photography is often used to try to deal with this phenomenon. Sure,
there has always been the possibility of manipulation, the old ‘camera
never lies’ oxymoron. And now we have Photoshop, ready and willing to
tidy up images and with it our recall. However at the end of the day
there is always the comfort of a random snapshot or a family portrait
that confirms, “yeah it really did happen.”
The selection of images in Person, Place or Animal explore my
key photographic concerns. Frequently I find myself compelled to
photograph landscapes, people, and animals, but there is usually a
catch. I see habits forming in the sort of photographic imagery I
collect and construct. When I visit famous sites they often feel to me
like abandoned theatres. It fascinates me that we are so often
restrained from contact with the past by elegant red velvet stanchions.
As a child I detested the idea of the studio portrait and was grateful
that my parents never pressed us into having one. I felt for friends
whose houses I’d visit with the big framed family photo. You know the
type, the family looking uncomfortable under a droopy willow tree, the
tones of autumn slowly creeping from the trees into the faces of the
sitters. Those friends would pretend there was nothing on the wall or
nothing that they’d had any part in it. At the same time in those
houses there were other portraits, less prominently displayed and
somehow more fascinating. These were the studio photographs of old
stored in albums and shoeboxes.
Now here I am desperately trying to keep studio portraiture alive,
rekindle it in my own way. I want to look back into the albums of our
past and present sitters as part of the modern theatre of contemporary
life. I want to photograph people, without any additional tricks. I
want to record them in the aesthetic continuum from which they emerged
and into which they fit.
Mark Smith 2004.