Smith’s Journey to finding himself

October 2, 2018

Joshua Smith is most known for his sense of humor, but there is so much more to him thanks to his ability to make us smile. I started by asking him about the origins of his name. He mentioned how he never uses the “ua” as it sounds too old and biblical. Smith was born in Springfield Missouri which he described as, “Not quite a small town, but definitely not a big city.” In high school, Josh struggled to find his authentic identity and tried to fit in by playing and watching basketball; however, he then realized “being slightly tall was not enough” to make the team past freshman year. He continued to play but knew he had to reexamine who he was and what he wanted to do with his life.

A young Smith posing for the camera in his hometown of  Springfield, Missouri.

In an attempt to find himself, Smith decided to take a photography class, with a camera in hand, he described photography as “a foreign language I already knew how to speak.” Through this class, he was able to learn more about photography whilst giving him a greater perspective on art in general. He instantly fell in love with the art form and knew he wanted to learn more. Smith’s parents liked the idea of him attending college, but never strongly encouraged it, as they hadn’t attended college. Smith was the oldest of four and had a father who loved music and played night gigs for extra cash on the weekends. By observing his father trying to balance what he loved doing and his job, Smith learned the importance of putting effort into the things he loved doing.

Wanting to pursue photography further, Smith applied to Missouri State. Despite having very little guidance, he was the first in his family to go to college, displaying some of his father’s hardworking values. At Missouri State, Smith was exposed to multiple resources, allowing him to create many beautiful photos. Clearly, photography was something Smith loved doing, and it began to play an important part in his life. It can be truly said that Smith found his true self through photography and deservedly earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA).

I’ve been fortunate to have Josh as a teacher for one semester last year and for the full year this year. During his introduction to our photo class this year, he told us about a time when he came to school with two different pairs of shoes. Was this a new fashion style? No. In fact, he didn’t even notice until a student pointed it out to him. These little stories that Smith tells his students not only demonstrate his sense of humor but also how much he cares for his students as he provides them with a good laugh early in the morning. One day during class, Smith seemed a little more energetic than usual. When a classmate pointed this out, Smith claimed that it was because he drank more coffee than he does regularly.

Posing in front of the VAC, Josh Smith is holding his most prized possession, a coffee thermos which he’s been drinking since his college days. 

It was clear to me that coffee plays an important part in Smith’s life, so when I was thinking about questions to ask him, I made sure that I didn’t leave out asking about his love for coffee. Coffee has been a part of his life since his college days when he would stay up late developing photos with his friends, demonstrating the passion that he has for photography and the time and effort he puts in. Smith describes these college nights as being “hungry for the darkroom.” Today, Smith is a father to three young children which he describes as being like “a circus” at home. Because the kids consume so much of Smith’s energy, he has relied on coffee to keep him going. However, because he is a father and a teacher, he has tried to “keep it under control” and limits himself to three cups or under a day. Even on the toughest of mornings, Smith always comes to MA eager to teach and happily helps students develop quality photos, as he believes that photos help tell a hidden story about the photographer.

Courtesy of Josh Smith. Beautiful, natural light shining through the window of a MUNI: Smith’s favorite photo that he’s taken.

In an attempt to learn more about Smith, I asked Smith about his favorite photo he’s taken and he told me it was one that he took in a Muni in SF about 12 years ago. He mentioned that when a woman with long, curly, red, hair sat down in front of him, her hair perfectly covered her face. Smith vividly described the light ascending from the window and through the dress shirt behind the woman, leading to the creation of the best photo he’s ever taken. I took some time to try to visualize the image and through that visualization, I learned that Smith’s style revolves around everyday beauty. Curious about what Smith thought of his style, I asked to which he responded by saying, “I try to only describe a much as I need.” Hearing this, I understood the love for simplicity while also portraying everyday beauty. Smith’s style makes for a great photography teacher because he encourages his students to attempt to photograph all types of things, including those that might not be seen in photography a lot. This freedom allows young students to be able to find themselves through photography similarly to how he found himself.

Smith complementing a student on his amazing outcome of his first ever photo developed in the darkroom. 

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