The Kiernan Gallery is pleased to announce the winners of Both Sides of the Lens: Juror’s Choice, Aëla Labbé and Director’s Choice, Heather Evans Smith. We have asked both artists a few questions about their work and inspiration and present a profile of Heather below. Be sure to check back soon to learn more about Aëla and her work.
Director's Choice: The Heart and the Heavy
One of the most enchanting aspects of Heather Evans Smith’s work is the depth of emotion that pours out of every image. Nowhere is this more evident than in her winning image, The Heart and the Heavy. From her ongoing series of the same name, this image completely embodies the project’s ideals. “The Heart and the Heavy expresses two sides. A true love and a heavy burden.” The comfort and the obligation are palpable; the heavy house strapped to her back. And though this juxtaposition of emotions could come across as tension or angst, Smith’s work tends to have an underlying sense of calm about it. “The imagery may at times be dark, but I always want there to be a sense of hope as well.” Using common human emotions to create something relatable is really the whole point.
This started through many major life changes in the past few years, both good and bad, not only in my life, but in others' lives that I am close to. I find it is important for me to express what I am going through in imagery. It is cathartic. It takes that feeling out of my head and puts it somewhere else for a while. So far, all of the images have been shot around the farmland in the town where I grew up. There is a sense of familiarity there, nostalgia and melancholy.
Earth Beneath My Feet
Growing up in that rural setting is indeed one reason Smith’s art has evolved in the way that it has. As an only child, imagination and creativity were crucial for entertainment and self-expression. This, coupled with the conceptual nature of her recent work, has translated to a dream-like quality in many of her images. Planning and sketching are integral to the process. “My ideas come from the world around me: light, color, fashion, found objects and music. These are immediately written down and sketched, later to evolve into a story that comes from moments of life, or forms a life of its own.”
Smith is also highly skilled in post-production, utilizing Photoshop to help achieve a surreal, dreamy quality in her work. Nonetheless, Smith likes to have her images be as real as possible before they are even put on the computer. With regards to her winning image:
I searched for months to find the perfect house to put on my back. I could have easily Photoshopped it, but having a real house (that was actually made of heavy wood) on my back brings a sense of reality to the image. My body reacts to it correctly because it is there. I feel the heaviness of it. But I love Photoshop because I can bring that little extra surreal touch of adding smoke and editing the colors to a world that I only dream about.
That her work is based in reality also lends gravity to her images. And that is another reason The Heart and the Heavy is proving to be such a fascinating series: seeing Smith act out her own feelings and emotions is powerful. Not only is it a cathartic experience for her, but intimate as well. Though she describes herself as a “conceptual portrait photographer,” she readily admits that images she has taken of herself are much more personal and meaningful.
The stories that Smith creates with her images are always beautiful, no matter how dark the subject matter. “Surreal dreams are brought to life and played out. Vintage scenes become timeless. Whether the theme is song interpretation, beauty, feminism or mental illness, I want my photographs to be graceful and moving, revealing the story between the lines.”