We had the good fortune of connecting with Christine Lee Smith and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Christine Lee, how do you think about risk?
Taking calculated risks is a big part of my story throughout my career as a photographer and artist. It started when in 2006 I left my desk job to pursue commercial photography. I knew I was a good photographer but I wasn’t sure at the time how I could make a career of it. I ended up taking on a part-time photographic retail job while I built my business. Over the years my business evolved from specializing in weddings and family portraits, to switching to commercial portrait work. Even with the changes, by 2016 I was burning out hard. I was beginning to hate photography — something I had loved since I was a teenager. I realized it was because I had spent my career telling other people’s stories through photography and never my own. I ended up taking a calculated risk by going back to school for my MFA from Azusa Pacific University. There I learned how to take my skills in portraiture to the fine art level by understanding what it was I wanted to tell the world through my portraits. I learned how to craft my work with a conceptual framework. I started working with film processes again and re-fell in love with photography. Now, I still take on commercial work, but I’m building my fine art career — which is yet another in a long line of calculated risks that have served me well.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I am a relentless problem solver. No matter what challenge comes my way I find a way to navigate forward. I don’t believe in solution binaries, and am always looking for the third alternative. My MFA cohort saw and named this trait in me; it helped me understand even better what it is I do and how I do it in my art practice. When I approach a project, and come to an inevitable stuck point I use this “super-power” to help me look for uncommon solutions. For example, I was on a photographic tour a couple years back on a new bridge build in the Port of Los Angeles. There was limited space to shoot (we were on an under construction bridge) and at each stop the group would inevitably congregate in the same area together. I was not getting any photos that excited me, so at the next stop I decided that whichever way the group wandered, I would wander in the opposite direction. My photographs were chosen for gallery exhibition in part because they were a unique perspective on the project. Currently I’m using this skill in my practice on some new work I’m making. I see a huge problem with systemic racism in the USA that I want to address through my artwork. However, as a white woman I’ve not been sure how to address it without making the narrative about me, or appropriating cultures that are not my own. It’s been a problem I’ve just begun to see a solution and a way forward with that’s leading to some exciting new work.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
First I would take my friend to the Getty. It’s a beautiful space with lots of different art available on view. It’s also a place you can spend a whole day at and get immersed in all of what’s available – from gallery tours, the gardens, and lunch on site. I would also bring them to the Underground Museum. It’s a smaller space with an amazing library available, and has works by artists often not on view elsewhere. It’s an experience that shouldn’t be missed. For a meal I’d take them to Comfort LA for some of the best chicken in the area. And I couldn’t let them leave without a trip to Venice Beach.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Shoutout to the MFA faculty at Azusa Pacific University for helping me understand my craft at a new level, and for encouraging me throughout my time in the program.
Christine Lee Smith — Gallery shot of “Portraits on Estrangement”: Elon Schoenholz