ARTIST TALK, WTF 2020!
A series of talks with artists about their experiences in 2020.
#1 Alice Smith
Artist Alice Smith usually is here, there and everywhere around the North East. In the daytime, she works in a multimedia production team and at night she’s a podcaster extraordinaire!
You would have seen Alice around the art scene with her Hey Art? What’s Good podcast team. Hey Art? What’s Good is a podcast that promotes exhibitions and artists mostly in the North East and sometimes internationally. Not only does she do all that she is also a photographer. With her camera always at the ready, Alice documents her travels wherever she goes. Alice was just starting to exhibit her work in galleries such as Pineapple Black in Middlesbrough. She was on a roll and then 2020 hit...
Then like all creatives in 2020 everything stopped. No art galleries opened, furloughed job, Alice kept documenting her surroundings whilst 2020 was slowly going by. On Instagram, there is a gallery full of images if you follow #alicesadventurefilmphotography. In this somewhat hidden beautifully presented gallery you will see all her photos of 2020. Pink-Collar talks with Alice about her year in 2020 and what she can’t wait for in 2021.
Image Description - black & white photo, exterior. back of 2 terraced houses, with surrounding brickyards with back doors to enter yard which leads onto a street with electric boxes in a row next to houses. Graffiti on the wall covered by boxes saying “FEE ONEE”
Throughout 2020 you have been all around the North East documenting your surrounding. Do you feel in 2020 your work has not only been growing for your practice but has been therapeutic and purposeful for your mental health?
ALICE - Yeah I’ve tried to get around the area I live in as much as I can. I would say my work has definitely grown in 2020, if only for the fact that I haven’t had much else to do than make some photos! I’ve had a look and I shot around 114 rolls of film this year which is a huge increase from the year before. Something I’ve really enjoyed is the sense of purpose photography gives me; sure I could just go on a walk but I could make a bit more of an event out of it by taking my camera along and getting some pictures. And once I take them I have to develop them and the scan them or print them, so it really adds to my workflow and gives me something to focus on.
Image Description - coloured photo, exterior, a man wearing a dark purple T-shirt and jeans with greyish hair and full beard looking straight into the camera with a slight smile with food in hand. Two dogs, a border collie and a tiny Yorkshire terrier staring intensively at the food in hand. Surrounded them is long grass with backpacks dotted around. In the background is endless green forest trees.
A lot of your work has stopped due to the pandemic. Do you think you have had time you
didn’t have before to improve and develop your style in photography?
ALICE - I’ve had so much time in the past year it’s ridiculous. I went from working full time to furloughed in
April of 2020, and it was difficult to find things to do to fill my time and distract from the world for a
bit. I would like to think I’ve improved my photography over the past year because I’ve had so much
time for it. If not necessarily in the style I shoot, the definitely in the way I handle my images after
I’ve developed them. I scan everything myself and for colour photography especially this becomes
a bit of a fine art in making sure what the computer interprets is correct. So my colour correction
has gotten a lot better, which also helps me in my job and a video editor so that’s a bonus!
I imagine my style has also developed a bit, however I would say that the lockdowns have helped
me kind of understand what it is a look for in compositions, which more often than not doesn’t
include people, so having empty streets and cities for months was a bit of a dream for me!
Image Description - black & white photo, exterior a misty gloomy day with silhouettes of trees and bushes with a large lake in the forefront with black ducks swimming and Pedalo boats still in the water. Some shaped as large swans.
Did you purposely want to focus your photography on the North East and all its
surrounding family life, landmarks and the mixture of the rural and concrete environment?
ALICE - I wouldn’t necessarily say that my focus on the North East is a purposeful choice, rather one of
circumstance since I like here. I’d like to think I’d photograph wherever I lived as much as I do now.
Something I can say for certain though is that I didn’t appreciate the North East as much as I did
when I returned from university. I lived in Leeds and the Netherlands during my degree and really
loved the drastic changes in scenery, so when I came back after 4 years Gateshead and Newcastle
seemed fresh and new, so I endeavored to capture as much of it as I could. We’ve got such an
amazing environment up here; Newcastle is a beautiful city with so many different architectural
styles and history, that it always makes for some interesting scenes and compositions. The same
goes for Bensham, where I live in Gateshead, but in a much more ordinary sense. There are of
course many places like it, and there’s nothing that particularly stands out as unique, but it’s where
I’m from, where I live, and I always find that I see it in new ways.
Image Description - black & white photo, exterior, a row of houses at night, 2 cars in the front of the houses, the middle house is covered with Xmas light decorations of baubles, Christmas trees, stars, Santa, three wise men, presents and a Homer Simpson and Winnie the pooh inflatables.
You have a career in multimedia production; is this something you would love to develop
or would you love to be a full time photographer? Or do you think for yourself that being an
artist in this climate is financially too hard?
ALICE - I do really enjoy what I do, which for the most part is video and audio editing. As I mentioned I’m
still furloughed so I really have a drive to get back into my editing work and develop that much
more. Conveniently, having an eye for compositions in photography can only help with the camera
work I do, so I’d like to think that I’ve been developing that skill a bit despite not picking a video
camera up for a while! I don’t think I’d want to pack up my job and focus all my energies on being a
full-time photographer though. For one being self-employed on a full-time basis is always hard,
especially for a creative field like photography when consistent work / clients can be hard to come
by and keep. But also I think I would lose the passion I have for it, turning something I love to do
when I have the time and inclination into a job that has to sustain me. The pressure seems like it
could be a bit much. I did make a couple of commissions in 2020 though which was amazing! So I
wouldn’t mind maybe a little more of that when I have the creative freedom to make something of
my own for someone else.
Image Description - coloured photo, exterior, In the middle of the photo is the main road with 4 cars moving, above the road is a walkway, stairs going down to an estate on the other side of the walkway is big green bushes. The background is of large hills of fields.
You have a brilliant collection of cameras, can you tell us your process of your favourite
camera you use? And what camera have you collected over the years?
ALICE - Ooh this could be a long one, I love talking about all my cameras! I primarily shoot with analogue
film cameras, and currently have 16 in my collection. One of the main things I love about these old
cameras is the variation; it took a while in the early days to really nail down what a camera could
be, so there were a lot of options for how to make photos. My oldest camera I have is just over 100
years old and is literally a reinforced cardboard box with a little plastic lens and a shutter button. All
the different types I have with their niches and limitations keep me inspired and the photos I make
a bit varied I think.
One of my favourite cameras is one I picked up in March of 2020. I got it as a present to myself when
everything kicked off to cheer me up a bit. It’s called a Yashica-Mat and it came out in the late 50s /
early 60s - still works great! It’s one of those ones where you look down into ground glass to
compose, and the image is back to front because of the mirror set up in the camera body, and it has
two lenses on the front: one to compose on and one that actually takes the photo. It makes square
images and it’s so much fun to use. When you take a photo you have to wind the crank on the side
to take another, and it’s one that usually gets a conversation started with strangers in the park.
Image Description - black & white photo, exterior, a very quiet street in Newcastle city centre. At the front of images are traffic lights to cross to a church with large neo-classical architecture moving all the way up to greys monument in the distance.
In 2020 there was very little support for creatives, as an artist what sort of support would
you like to see in 2021?
ALICE - As we’ve all experienced, 2020 has been a bit of a shitshow, with so many people being negatively
impacted in so many ways. A group of people I’ve really sympathised with is current university
students, especially first years. Being saddled with 9 grand of debt a year to not even be able to go
into university, sue the facilities and talk face-to-face with other students and staff members is just
atrocious. Especially for practical causes like art and design, where the use of facilities is crucial for
creating work and a huge draw for some students to certain universities. I feel as though a lot of
students would benefit from some kind of free do-over when we’re all vaccinated and safe to return
to these ways of working, so they can really make the most out of the degree they want to do.
Image Description - coloured photo, exterior, outside a corner shop, the windows and doors are covered with advertisements for the lottery, DPD and sim cards. With no dog allowed stickers. In the centre of the image are two capsules vending machine, red rather old with cartoon aliens and spaceship stickers on one of the machines.