Source: CVDaily Feed
Steven B. Smith is now a professor of photography at the Rhode Island School of Design, but he grew up in Utah during the Cold War. In an exclusive interview with Slate, Smith referred to Utah’s Mormon-dominated culture of the 1980s as “a pretty dark time,” filled with “conservative oppression and a culture of fear.”
Smith first revealed this project in 1987 during a critique as he was studying for an MFA in photography at Yale University. The project was shelved, however, after a disastrous critique.
As fate would have it, though, Smith presented the photos again while teaching at Amherst College 25 years later. In the audience sat Nelson Chan, who had previously taken classes with Smith.
Chan was in the midst of launching TIS books, a new publishing house, and saw an opportunity. He asked Smith if he would like to monograph the work, to which Smith agreed.
Smith’s book of photographs, “Waiting Out the Latter Days,” came out this year.
“The pictures I liked later were the ones where I was taking more chances, and [at the time they] didn’t seem like completely finished pictures,” he said. “I had squeezed all the life of the images I had shown in the critique. All the ones that were lively and mysterious and sort of part my creation; in a way, those were the most interesting photos later.”
Photography is a powerful and tangible way of capturing the atmosphere of a place during a certain time, though 52% of parents surveyed say they have done nothing with their own photos to preserve them for future generations.
The decision to publish the photos after nearly three decades led Smith to go back to Utah on a journey of self-discovery of sorts. He hoped that going back would allow him to better engage with his process and reflect on how things had changed — both in the area and in himself.
“I loved that work and it was really amazing going back because I got to see this passionate, connected, dedicated young person who I used to be really grinding out his issues,” Smith said. “I felt kind of bad I had been such a baby when I got my first bad crit at Yale.”
During his second visit, he went back to the places he originally photographed, to see how they had changed. He says he wanted to see how an improved economy and no Cold War would change the culture of the area in which he grew up.
“If you’re in a culture preparing to be sucked up into heaven and all the sudden the fear of the Cold War is lifted and the economy grows, all of the sudden you have to be rooted and concerned with living on Earth,” Smith explained. “I thought they would be a little more self-assured but also not consumed with fear; it’s a hard thing to find in a culture in a way, but I think most of my work is me projecting on other people since I kind of work in an intuitive way.”
The book, which showcases photos from 1987 and 2014, is available for purchase for $50 through TIS Books.