Interview Series: Amanda Leigh Smith

Amanda Leigh Smith, a Portland-based photographer, embodies our favorite kind of artist – nostalgic in style, elevated in skill and admirable in work ethic. She prefers to shoot analog, which results in retro photographs that have me yearning for decades I never lived through. Initially beginning her career with a BA in Political Science, Smith filtered through her eclectic interests before realizing her heart belongs to photography full time. She was kind enough to fill Live FAST Mag in on her past endeavors, present musings and future accomplishments. Peep the interview below!

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Q&A

LF: Tell us a bit about yourself and your artistic journey. 

ALS: Growing up I spent a lot of time outdoors and traveling with my family, going back and forth from my parent’s in Texas to my grandparents in Arkansas where we’d camp, fish, ride 4-wheelers and work in the garden. Every year we’d travel around Texas to see the wildflowers, and we were lucky enough to travel frequently together all over the US. At a young age I was able to travel to Canada, Mexico, France, Singapore and Malaysia. I definitely feel like my upbringing has shaped my photography style and my desire to always be on the move. I grew up outside of Houston where we had a few horses and lots of animals, spending time going to rodeos, sailing with my dad, climbing trees and being terrified at bible camp. I also spent a ton of time going into the city frequently just visit the amazing art museums Houston has and thrift for crazy vintage clothes. I spent a lot of time reading history books, going to anti-war protests and writing my senator about bullshit legislation like trying to overturn Roe v. Wade. I had a great mix of city and rural life at my finger tips and my interests were all over the place.

My artistic journey has also been all over the place from being a dancer for 10 years, dabbling in sculpture, drawing, painting, and collage. I’ve always loved photography though, both fashion and photojournalism. In high school I was the newspaper photo editor, writer and photographer, which is where I first learned how to use a dark room and fell in love with photography. I was accepted into Brooks Institute of Photography for visual journalism, but when I realized that the expensive tuition was way beyond my reach I completely switched gears and went to college graduating with a BA in Political Science with plans of being a civil rights lawyer. I worked as a social worker for the past few years while doing freelance photography on the side – mostly for fun to balance out the emotionally challenging work I was doing or just to document whatever adventure I was on. Within the past year I realized photography was something I needed to pursue professionally full time.

LF: What sparked your move from Texas to Oregon?

After I ended up not being able to go to school at Brooks in California, heart broken, I moved to Austin after graduating high school. I really needed a change of scenery, so after visiting a friend who had moved to Portland I packed my car and two cats and drove to Oregon when I was 19.

LF: What’s your favorite thing about living in Portland?

ALS: Close proximity to many different kinds of nature: forest, waterfalls, desert, ocean, rivers, mountains, snow.

LF: Whats the most important thing youve learned in the past / first two years of your career as a photographer?

ALS:  In the past two years: Don’t limit or undervalue yourself. In the first two years: Take many risks and move constantly

LF: Why do you prefer to shoot analogue?

ALS: In high school and in college when I was able to use a darkroom it was super exciting to be able to watch my images appear before my eyes on paper. I really enjoyed the whole process and found it exciting. Now I’ve been using the same camera for so long that I’ve bonded with it. I prefer my simple, cheap analogue camera because it allows me to focus solely on my surroundings and capturing moments. I appreciate the authenticity of capturing a moment on film without any post-processing. Plus if it drops in the mud, which happens from time to time, I know everything will be all right.

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LF: What’s your biggest photographer’s fantasy?

ALS: Unlimited access to film and my own dark room. Traveling the world and documenting events, people and places.

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LF: What are your greatest strengths?

ALS: I’m pretty fearless when it comes to taking photos. I’ll do just about anything if it means getting an interesting photo. I often find myself telling the people I’m about to work with to wear clothes they can get dirty. I’m also very organized and I like to plan things out, but at the same time can be completely spontaneous and adaptable to change quickly.

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LF: Youd like to explore another field beyond artistic photography?

ALS: More commercial fashion photography, travel photography and photojournalism documenting people, places and political/cultural events.

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LF: Would you rather have a charming old Westfalia or a sparkly new Range Rover to cross the country? Why?

ALS: Charming Westfalia. When I met my boyfriend he was living out of his 1970s VW van, so I have a soft spot for those old vans in my heart, I guess. Plus, if we broke down we would be able to fix it ourselves and they’re comfy to sleep in. The only downside is that I like to drive fast. Charming old Westalia’s don’t move too quickly.

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LF: Where do you want to take your career? What’s next?

ALS: I want to shoot for larger and more established designers and labels, like Chanel, Miu Miu, Missoni, Mara Hoffman, Free People, Wrangler, Novella Royle to name a few. I want to find representation to support and help me navigate my career. I want my photography to be able to support me and a future family while jumping from one project and adventure to the next. I’d someday like to be published in Vogue, RUSSH, Dazed and Confused, Vice, Oyster, plus many more.

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LF: When are you happiest?

ALS: I am happiest when I am working on a photo shoot; when I’m scouting locations and planning creative direction, when I’m working with the stylist planning wardrobe, and when I’m shooting the photos. Equal to that I am happiest when I’m on the back of my boyfriend’s 1978 BMW motorcycle he built and we’re riding through mountains on gravel logging roads, finding hidden hot springs, skinny dipping in lakes, and camping somewhere beautiful.

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LF: How fast do you live?

ALS: Pretty fast. Constantly busy working 2 day jobs, and constantly planning and plotting my next project or adventure.

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It’s All Gucci…