In Photography

Convocation for the College of Fine Arts and Communications will take place at 11 a.m. on August 17

Abigail Smith is speaking the August 2018 Convocation for the College of Fine Arts and Communications. Photo taken by Lindsey Tippetts.

How Design Helped Smith Find Her Place

Abigail Smith, like many students, felt pressure to choose a major that would translate into a successful career after graduation. When she decided to major in photography that pressure only increased.

She says a lot of people warned her it wasn’t a viable career, but this was not a decision she was making on a whim. In fact, Smith tried out various majors before finally settling on photography. She says that after taking her first class in the major the decision was easy; she knew photography was where she belonged.

“I felt like photography would make me happy,” said Smith. “That sounds silly, but that was a big deciding factor for me. If you do something that makes you happy, you’re going to thrive in it.”

Smith has certainly found ways to thrive during her time at BYU. From traveling to New York with other design students to creating her own project centered on adult acne, Smith has used her time at BYU to go beyond minimum requirements.

Smith urges other students to do the same by taking advantage of the various resources and opportunities offered by the program.

“Just be willing to experiment while you’re here,” said Smith. “School isn’t about just doing what is laid out in front of you. Instead of following the path the school has for you, utilize the different things that are available to make it your own path. Just doing the things you actually want to do; there is space for that within the structure you have to follow.”

Smith says one of her favorite things about being in the photography major has been the experiential learning and mentoring opportunities she has participated in, which she says are especially accessible in photography.

“The professors were really willing to connect with me as a person and a student, they actually wanted to talk to me” she said. “One of the biggest things for me has been the mentorship that I’ve received.”

Smith recounts one specific experience with Professor Robert Machoian Graham. He asked students to help him with a film he was working on outside of class. “It wasn’t something he had to do, but it was a awesome experience for us to be on his set,” Smith said.  

She also said she appreciated getting to collaborate with other students throughout her experience in the major. She recounts one particular class, advanced location photography, where one person would take the lead and come up with a big shoot. Then all the students would work together to bring it to life.   

Preparing for Life After Graduation

Smith, like most students preparing to graduate, says life in the real world is intimidating; however, she feels like her experiences at BYU have prepared her for the future.

“My experience at BYU has prepared me in a lot of ways,” said Smith. “But in the major there have been a lot of specific experiences that have helped me feel more prepared.”

She says in photography there’s not always a clear professional path in comparison to other disciplines, such as medical school, where the steps are often laid out for you.

She said she is grateful that most of her professors focused on how they could actually use the skills they were learning after graduation.

She said one experience in particular helped prepare her for post-graduation life.

Smith had the opportunity to attend a week-long study abroad in New York City, where she interacted with photographers and agencies. She received a close look at life in the commercial photography world and discovered what it takes to be successful there.

“It’s actually kind of funny,” said Smith. “I definitely learned a lot from these commercial photographers, things that are going to be helpful, but I definitely learned that that’s not the direction I want to go. I never want to live in New York.”

Despite this realization, Smith said she still picked up skills that will be useful in the future, like how to run a practice, when to get an agent or how to communicate with clients.

Smith said the best experience of the trip was attending a show presented by the organization  “AIPAD,” which is one of the world’s most prestigious photography shows and features work from around the world.  

“It almost makes me cry thinking about seeing that work,” said Smith. “You see this work in your textbook or online, but then you get to see it in person and it was almost life-changing.”

Seeing so many photos in print had an immense impact on her. “A big part of it was seeing the possibilities of what I could do,” she said.

“You have no idea what the quality of those photos is until you see them in person,” said Smith. “I feel so inspired when I see actual prints from photographers I have learned and read about. I feel awestruck, and want to create things that feel the way those photographs make me feel.”

Smith said her final show here at BYU was her proudest achievement in her academic career.

Abigail Smith poses next to an installation of her series on adult acne in the HFAC.

The show is a series on adult acne, something Smith say she struggled with personally for a long time. “It’s something that’s very close to my heart. It took a lot of hard work to be confident and not just totally ashamed of it. When I thought of this idea of showing people with acne in a beautiful light I got really excited about it.”

Smith said despite her initial excitement, she started to worry that people might criticize the project or feel grossed out by it. At that point she realized those negative notions about acne was why she needed to do the project in the first place.

“This series feels like a pretty large accomplishment,” said Smith, not only because it was something so personal to her, but because it’s the single largest project she has ever worked on.

Smith hopes to continue this project after graduation and would eventually like to go to grad school and get an MFA. Whatever the future brings, she said she wants to keep making more work that she feels good about, work that “has good intentions and will do positive things for the world.”

Q&A with Abigail

What did you want to be when you grew up?

“I remember I always said I wanted to be a mom. Then for a while I wanted to be a photographer for National Geographic.”

Where do you find inspiration?

“From other photographers (shout out to the library’s photography section). I also use the hard experiences I’ve had in my life. Photography is how I represent how I’ve worked through them.”

What was the hardest challenge you had to overcome at BYU?

“Choosing a major was hard until I finally decided to do photography, then it was an easy choice.”

 What is your favorite snack to eat?

“Bananas with peanut butter, chocolate chips, and raisins on top.”

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