One of the first things that is easily noticed upon arrival at Swarthmore is the incredible amount of art that students create every day, which often goes unnoticed. From my own experience, for people from smaller, more rural areas, the exposure to different forms of artwork can be limited. This is not the case at Swarthmore. Those inside and outside of the art department tell stories about the world around them in unique and creative ways. These stories are what drive this series to create pieces that highlight the thoughts and works of different Swarthmore artists.
Olivia Smith ̕̕̕̕̕̕ 21, a prospective economics major with French and math minors, is one of many incredible artists sharing their work at Swarthmore. She is a photographer who has been heavily involved in the Kitao Gallery since last semester and has recently become president of the Swarthmore Photography Club, which she is working to expand during her time in the role. Smith’s involvement with these organizations gives her a unique perspective on art at Swat, making her the perfect person to start this series. While she studies at Swarthmore she hopes to take foundational drawing as a means to balance her photography work with other mediums.
“Because I consider myself a photographer, I consider myself an artist, but I don’t know if I have a very good definition of what art is, so things can get a little confusing. I think everyone’s an artist in some way or another,” Smith explains.
“I guess I like making beautiful things – not in the beautiful ‘pretty’ sort of way, but the beautiful ‘enrapturing’ way. I definitely think art is a cultural, and hopefully cross-cultural, unifier, so I’d like to say I contribute to that somehow … but who really knows?” Smith went on.
Art has been part of Smith’s life for a long time. “I remember two photos that I would call my first artworks. One was of three stuffed animals, one of which was holding a sign that read ‘forgotten’ with misspellings and poor handwriting. The other was of song lyrics from ‘Little Talks that I had collaged and hung from a hanger. I was pretty angsty in middle school,” she reflected. Along with those pieces, she also loved taking photos of words and graphics.
“While I started as more of a architecture/street photographer, I moved more to portraits and shoots with models because I have a friend back in St. Louis who would go on small expeditions with me. I have to give her a lot of credit for my work over the years; she is such a motivator,” Smith detailed.
“Within the realm of those model shoots, I often find myself fighting with my feminist anti-objectificational views that clash with taking pictures of women, but really anyone. This internal struggle always results in the conclusion that my portraits should not just be a picture of a human being, but a picture of an identity, and one that should have the primary goal of empowerment for the model,” Smith explains as she connects how the struggles of photography enable her to tell stories. This goal of empowerment is evident in the photos she takes and how the models are portrayed.
“I’d say that to be a photographer you have to have a sense of adventure, and to some extent, rebellion. It ultimately makes the actual act of the photoshoot a work of art as well,” she concluded, “Once I had to convince an enraged campus security guard from calling the real cops on us for setting off smoke bombs near a school. Oops.”