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Exclusive interview with Landis Smithers for HUF Magazine Issue 45

It’s time to put the art back into photography; complete with muses, passion and dedication to art in its purest form.

Landis Smithers approaches his subjects with all the enthusiasm of the mythical Nine Muses. Such grit, such passion, distinguishes Landis from so many of his contemporaries.

Never one to mince words, Landis gave HUF an exclusive interview straight from the heart. His forward style pulls no punches, his answers leaving us wondering … where in the world will Landis take us next? And to what end.. could there ever be an end for this constantly evolving master?

Landis Smithers is dedicated to the art form that is photography. His photographs open minds, touch hearts and send pulses racing. This man and his photography are one.

 “Being a photographer in Los Angeles is like being French in Montreal. They speak the same language, technically, but without the nuance or the subtlety that makes it so beautiful. There are a lot of talented photographers out here, but the predominant style is either “pin-up glossy” or “headshot no shadows”. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve done a friend a favor – only to hear his agent say the shots are “too moody and fashion-y”. My eye tends to be a lot more art based and inspired by painting and old world photography and a lot less glossy… so I have to find clients and assignments that either appreciate that or are ready for a change. I’m also not a fan of the, “I went on a road trip with my mother’s camera and shot my friends sweaty and playing in the desert out-of-focus.” I like beauty, I’m not afraid of it. Aspiration is not a dirty word to me. To be honest, I have been published more by entities in Europe and on the East Coast than on the West Coast. It’s just a matter of
sensibility.

I worked initially in traditional advertising agencies, starting as a copywriter. It was an amazing way to see one side of the business, to go on shoots, to learn from great talents, and to see how to commercialize a talent and make a living. If anyone tells you that they don’t want to “sell out” they are simply telling you that no one has offered them a real paycheck yet. We all want to eat and pay the rent and buy new shoes. If you can balance that with your own personal work, then you win. So I worked at agencies on multinational brands, doing everything from television commercials, to print, to nascent social campaigns. I understood early that everything in the end was just content. The medium of broadcast didn’t matter if the message was strong and the execution was excellent. From there I went client side, then directed commercials, then picked up a camera.

I started as a photographer when I was shooting hair and beauty commercials for clients like Pantene and TRESemmé. They asked me to shoot their print along with the television, so I had to learn, fast. I went to a friend, who had interned under Ryan McGinley, and he put me through photography boot camp. I learned pretty quickly that I was great at shadows, movement, and stories – so he honed me on how to create those elements primarily. And then, I shot. I shot a lot. Ten thousand hours of shooting before I ever showed a piece. And a year before I was paid to do a shoot. My first paid shoot was for TRESemmé. In Argentina. It was amazing. My most recent shoot was an editorial piece with a model I discovered who went on to become the face of Diesel. We went back to our roots and shot all natural light at his apartment. Very ‘boy and a camera’ approach. Maximillian is a bit of a muse for me, so it turned out rather gritty and erotic. It couldn’t have been more different from the high gloss of my TRESemmé hair campaign from years back.

I am a storyteller. That’s what I tell people mostly when they ask what I do. Sometimes I just do it in a single frame for a shoot. Sometimes I do it for an entire brand as a re-imagining of their mission. But it should come as no surprise that my first job was at a bookstore. I loved it, every minute.

My mother is an artist who also started late in life. She paints palette knife oils, but was always evolving. I suppose there is a bit of subversion that works its way into my shoots being brought up in a …continue reading our exclusive interview with Landis Smithers in HUF Magazine Issue 45