On October 23rd, West Hollywood’s De Re Gallery was overwhelmed with the coolest crowd and a star-studded guest list. The man of the night, was the iconic photographer Brian Bowen Smith who presented his first solo exhibition, WILDLIFE.
The renowned artist had a chat with us about his vision behind the exhibition, self-liberation and the future.
TL: WILDLIFE is your first solo exhibition. What was the thought process of choosing to unveil the primitive side of human nature for your inaugural show?
BBS: I wanted to do a nude shoot of a model for Wildlife. It’s a very intimate thing to do – not everyone shoots nude. The women that I work with trust me, just as they trusted Herb (Ritts) when I was working with him. A lot of the big name models are under contract where they can’t do nude shots, so we used children’s masks so they were unidentifiable to the viewer. That inspired the idea for the entire Wildlife series which we shot at all different locations around California.
TL: Throughout your WILDLIFE photographs, the models have their faces covered with animal masks. This served the purpose of leaving aside any fears of judgment and self-consciousness. At the same time, the models were given the ability to explore their raw instincts and take more posing risks. In your opinion, why is the hiding of the face all it takes to be liberated from any shame-related feeling about our bodies and existence?
BBS: It takes away the judgment. Wearing the mask allows them to be set free from the judgment and allows them to express themselves fully. It was interesting to watch some of the women take on the persona of the animal in many cases and just play with that. It allowed them to take more chances in a sort of voyeuristic way without guilt or society judging them – to be someone else for the moment. A naked superhero. People tend to judge celebrities more harshly. This makes it harder for people to do that.
TL: You are influenced by the titans of black& white photography: Herb Ritts, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton, Peter Lindbergh and Peter Beard – a fact that reflects beautifully in your work. At which points of your professional life did you practically realize this impact?
BBS: I’m still realizing it every day.
TL: Black and white photography is always an effective canal to an emotional dialogue with the viewers. What kind of message do you want to pass through your lens, and what would you want your work to be marked in people’s minds for?
BBS: Trust. This is the most important thing as a photographer. I see it as an extreme privilege to make the subject look and feel beautiful and feel safe. When you have the trust, that is when the magic happens. Art is perceived differently by everyone – I want people to feel the same feeling of fearlessness and beauty that you see in the body language of the subjects in Wildlife and say to themselves “I would do that”.
TL: The WILDLIFE series is exhibited at the West Hollywood De Re Gallery, known for hosting contemporary up-and-coming artists. In what ways is it important to find the right space to showcase your work?
BBS: Find a gallery that fits with you. I like De Re because it’s simple. It’s a nice, beautiful studio with a family oriented environment. Finding a new gallery was a perfect fit for me as a relatively new artist in the fine art world.
TL: Since you have now gotten the baptism of fire with your first exhibition, what lessons did you gain through this experience that will be useful for your future ones?
BBS: Hopefully none. I don’t want to look at it like I’ve made it. I follow what the universe is telling me. Putting on my first show was a once in a lifetime opportunity. With the success of this first show, I’ve now gained more confidence and trust in myself to know that if I like it, I like it, and to just do it for myself. I want to create, I want to see my artwork on the walls. It really was a dream come true to physically see my work on the walls of the gallery on opening night.
TL: How do you see the scene of contemporary photography evolving? Are there any emerging talents that stand out for you at the moment?
BBS: I’m an old school guy. I want to see what’s inside the artist and find out who they are. I recently bought a piece from a girl who I don’t know. It looks like it’s from the 1920’s, the subject is wearing black high waisted underwear, leaning on one hip against a wall smoking a cigarette. I bought it because I thought the whole image was complete. I bought it for the pure art of it.
TL: After the last day of the WILDLIFE exhibition on Dec. 17, what does the future hold for you professionally?
BBS: I’ve already started the future. I never stop. It started after opening night. I may continue the White Series. I’ve had lots of people wanting to be involved. That’s half of the art – when the subject wants to do it so badly, they obviously have something to show. I want to give them a chance to show me what they have. You never know what you’re going to get.