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AVVAY Pro Highlight: Gary Smith

Gary Smith is a photographer, writer, and AVVAY Pro from Portland, Oregon. Having gone to school for creative writing, as a photographer, Gary says that he works to “combine the mediums of fiction and photography.” Keep reading to find out more about his unique creative work combination and inspirations.

“When I begin planning a shoot, I look at it as creating a set: what outfits/props/backgrounds will spark a story? When those elements all come together, I find that I do my best work.”

What/who are your creative influences?

I’m primarily drawn to images that tell a story. Contemporary photographers like Laura Makabresku and Karen Jerzyk (who set dark, elaborate scenes) are those who create the type of work I aspire to. 

How/when did you start in your professional career?

I picked up photography as a hobby over a decade ago (exploring the streets of San Francisco with an entry-level Nikon DSLR during college), but only began to pursue it professionally in the past few years, after moving to Portland. I started by assisting other local photographers, and eventually began to book my own shoots, ranging from product photography to gig promos and fashion. 

If you weren’t working as a creative, what would you be doing?

Most of my professional career has involved working as a creative, and it’s difficult to imagine myself in another field. Outside of photography, I work remotely as a copywriter for a web development company based in Los Angeles. 


How do you avoid creative burn out?

Burnout is something I think all creatives struggle with at some point. I graduated with a degree in Creative Writing and began to make a name for myself in the short fiction scene after college (earning a decent amount of publications here and there), but I hit a wall after a few years and stopped writing entirely. That’s when I shifted my focus to photography. The best advice I can give to anyone facing creative burn out is this: allow yourself to simply step away for a while and recharge. It will come back in time, or manifest itself elsewhere.

What stigma about your profession would you like to change?

One of the most common frustrations I see among freelance photographers is that (outside of weddings) so many people are unwilling to pay for photography services. If you won’t shoot for free, they’ll find someone who will. It’s not just the individuals, either – often, businesses will ask photographers to shoot “for exposure” and be shocked when someone declines. Bringing back a sense of value to the freelance photographer’s work is something I’d like to see, but that seems to be an uphill battle.


When/where do you come up with your best ideas?

Last year I began to approach fiction again, solely through the lens of photography. An image I took sparked a small piece of writing, and as an experiment I tossed the two onto Instagram together. Since then (for personal projects), I’ve only shot images that had some sort of story to tell. When I begin planning a shoot, I look at it as creating a set: what outfits/props/backgrounds will spark a story? When those elements all come together, I find that I do my best work.

At the moment, what is the biggest goal you are trying to achieve in your creative career?

Right now I’m trying to bridge the gap between photography and fiction. I’d like to make my images synonymous with the writing I do, and I’m exploring different avenues to pursue that goal (a book collecting the short stories I write and their source images, a gallery show with image and writing side-by-side, etc).

What do you hope that your work does for other people?

Any creative work that inspires emotion and leaves a mark is generally what I enjoy most. If any of my work can do the same for someone else, that’s ultimately what I aim for. 


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