“Everything you think you know, you should let go of when looking in a camera”
M: You’re last exhibit was in 2009, it’s been a while. Why now, and why Akasha?
RBS: Instinct. For 32 years I did my business over the phone; and I can tell whether I would like to work with someone or not. Sonja and Kelly are great people. They are very well respected. That is important to me.
M: There is a solid balance between your creative and commercial work, and this is something many people, especially younger people, struggle with. Does commercial work deter you from being creative?
RBS: Not at all, it is a problem-solving thing for me. Either way it is still a process, whether it has a commercial or creative end. All the work I do is important and interesting for me. The things you learn in every context changes you permanently. The things I pulled off and did in a commercial setting, some photographers would be surprised with.
M: Well, young Artists struggle with this a lot. How would you explain this to them? And what would you want to pass on?
RBS: I always use to say to my friends, “The level of your originality is directly proportional to the obscurity of your source.” I saw Rothko in a Turner exhibition at the National Gallery in London. It is how we build as a culture and an artist. Every time period gives you a glimpse of the past. Blade Runner comes to mind…when you look at it carefully. The future always has elements of the past. It references Chinatown, Frank Lloyd Wright, the body trade, snakes, exotic dancers, and still, Rutger Hauer hanging off the edge of a building, the sun rises on whatever it is, and with him all his memories die. That’s very human.
M: But now, here we are prepping for the show. There’s continuity here…
RBS: Now I just want to shoot! I don’t want to stop and think about it, I just want to explore things and find out where they can go. I put myself into a situation to see what I can see. The only continuity for the show at Akasha it is a collection of all B/W from different times in my life.
M: Many people are curious about your “Twins” series. Tell me what inspired you, how you developed that concept etc.
RBS: A good friend, Todd Richards suggested I shoot these two guys, Mark and Ian. I had the idea of the childhood game of stretching gum between their noses to show their genetic bond. That shot wasn’t that great, but when I gave them equal amounts of gum. They chewed and chewed, almost like one person looking into a mirror. They chewed at exactly the same time. Then they both blew bubbles exactly the same size. I couldn’t have even guessed it would look like that – they were identical bubbles. Then one burst. Their connected-ness, their individuality was there all in one. Many of the best things happen by accident.
M: Art is always evolving. As a Photographer, how was your work affected by the changes in technology. How has it impacted your production or creativity?
RBS: My wife, Bev, wrote a statement for a local magazine Contributor page that said, “Ron has willingly accepted the value of the digital camera but laments it’s need to overthrow his decisions.” When Canon made the digital camera, it was very much about averages. Everything is in the middle, and if everything is in the middle, then nothing has an opinion. So now you’re not really taking a picture as much as you’re collecting data. And I hate that! For the most part its all 35mm also; no tilts, shifts, yes you can get it to do that, but not at the expense of buying all new equipment. Then again, James Cameron could not have done the movie Titanic if he did not have a digital camera.
M: I want to ask you more about your relationship to photography. Not as medium- as an act, as a life-style, as a personal choice in how you “live”.
RBS: It’s not a lifestyle. It is what I do. There is that famous line for many abilities of, “ many are called, few are chosen”. There are a whole lot of people right now who get the most press by making the most noise. For me, I would always take quiet, understated elegance.
M: Understate elegance has become somewhat of a relic. It’s lovely to think that it still exists at least in some parts of the traditional Art world.
RBS: Ask Jil Sander or Muccia Prada if they agree. For me, walking in to a great photography or art exhibit with pieces of genius just sitting there quietly on the wall with all the thinking, the angst, drive that got that artist to make that work, and it just sits there is amazing for me. A painting is never going to ask you “hey buddy, what’s it mean to you?”.
M: What are you doing after this?
RBS: We travel as much as is possible. So I plan on continuing shooting, anywhere I can. I plan on putting those pictures out there, with quiet gentleness, and see who looks…
Image Credits: Ron Baxter Smith, “Twins Entwined”, 1991
About the Interviewer: Mia Raicevic is a Toronto based Fine Art Publicist and freelance Curator.