Intense and strong work by Jonathan van Smit. Streets with surreal and strange darkness make us sense a bone chill, whereas Jonathan continues to arrest these photographs often taken in conflict zones filled with sex workers and drug addicts. He feels these characters are very much subjective and even go beyond the word fiction.
Let us get to hear more from the photographer himself.
What makes photography so special for you?
Taking photos is partly an urge to ‘create’ something, to tell stories in a visual way, and partly a way to explore and understand my surroundings. I also enjoy walking, and photography provides a sense of purpose while I walk. I don’t do what they teach you in art school, to start with a concept, an idea, and work to that. Instead, I take lots of photos of anything that is visually interesting, and then later organize them into themes.
I love taking photos even to the point of being a bit obsessive about it but I don’t spend much time looking at other photographers’ work anymore even though I enjoy their company. I’ve always preferred looking at other art mediums. For example, I like work by Cy Twombly, Louise Bourgeois, James Turrell, Lucien Freud, and lots of others too.
If I do look at photography then it’s usually Chinese or Japanese work. Some of the photography in China is particularly interesting as the country has been undergoing such huge & rapid change. Na Risong’s website is a good place to explore if anyone’s interested.
How would you describe your style of work?
Well, it’s certainly not beautiful or pretty! I like noir movies so they have provided some influence, and there’s a part of me that would like to do documentary & conflict work but I’m too time challenged with my day job to find sufficient time.
I walk the streets but I don’t like the label ‘street photographer’. That term is meaningless to me. I do get upset at some of the injustices in this world of ours, and I’m interested in how people react to adversity but I wouldn’t describe my photos as documentary. They’re so subjective that they sometimes border on fiction.
How do you explore these stark places and what drives you to shoot some of the unshown stories to the world?
I’ve never thought of the locations where I take photos as ‘stark’. To me they’re full of life, humanity, enjoyable encounters, and sometimes adventure too. I’ve always been quite curious so that drives me quite a lot. If I’m out walking at the weekend, I find it hard to stop…I always want to see what’s around the next corner, to see how people are living their lives, and sometimes I’ll walk for 10-12 hours taking photos….most of which will be rubbish !
I’m not sure about that. My late son was studying photography at art school so there’s a sort of continuing dialogue going on there as we were very close. We used to have long conversations about art, life, etc, and I still hear his voice in my head when I’m walking or editing my photos.
It’s pretty simple gear really. I’ve always used Leica rangefinders, and currently use a Leica Monochrome and sometimes a Ricoh GR point & shoot if I’m feeling lazy. I like very wide angle lenses as they force me to get right up close. My favorite lenses are 15mm and 21mm so that I can shoot at really close range, typically around 1.5 or 2 metres for a head-to-foot shot and sometimes closer. Wide angles lenses are quite hard to use so I lose a lot of shots.
I shoot in RAW, usually at quite a high ISO, and edit the photos using Nik Silver Efex. I dodge & burn quite a bit, mostly around the edges, and increase contrast. I don’t sharpen or use noise reduction. I rarely use the viewfinder and prefer to guess focus distance.
You can find Jonathan van Smit on the Web:
All the pictures in this post are copyrighted to Jonathan van Smit. Their reproduction, even in part, is forbidden without the explicit approval of the rightful owners.