Interview with Sarah Stefana Smith of Stefana Photography
|Interview by Clayton
Note: I've noticed the photography of Sarah Stefana
Smith about five years ago and have been seeing her
around town since then seemingly always with a camera
in hand taking some of the finest shots you'd want
to see. I was able to ask her some questions about
her art and more. Enjoy the interview and peep her
pics by clicking here.
GeoClan.com (GC): Where are you
from and where are you trying to go?
Stefana Smith (SS): Location. The geography of my life has
brought me to many places, building relationships
with those spaces. I was born in Brooklyn, New York,
but grew up in the sprawling suburbs of Columbia,
Maryland. My summers were spent visiting family in
Long Island and Brooklyn. Atlanta became my home
for the four formative years of my College life.
Philadelphia is my current home.
By The Sea" - Waterloo, Trinidad
did you get into photography and at what age?
father has always been the photo griot of the family,
snapping shots of family, buildings, and places of
interest to him. One of my first memories of photographs
and picture taking was of daddy, photographing his
father. Pop sat perched on the steps of his Brooklyn
brownstone; hands clasped, applejack hat tilted to
the side. I’m not sure whether I was just fixated
on this image of my grandfather, or if I was actually
a presence at the time of its inception. Regardless,
this story has become a huge part of my identity
as a photographer.
got into photography during the first years of college;
I was about 19 or 20. I had the opportunity to participate
in an intergenerational project, with local photographers
in a group called Sistagraphy (collective of black
women photographers based in Atlanta). A photographer
was paired with college, high, and grammar school
students and we created a body of work on the neighborhoods
we were learning in. Our work was later shown at
the High Museum of Art for a short period of time.
other work/hobbies/crafts do you partake in?
a creative person; trying to find art in all aspects
of my life. Most recently, I’ve been
working on window collage/ assemblages. I find images
and (re) imagine them in conversation with each other.
Also, I have taken to cooking beautiful raw food
And more privately, I have always used journaling
as a way to gather my thoughts; I literally have
stacks of joournals that have accumulated over the
be the space you find: "We be..." is an
ethnographic project that asks LGBT people of African
descent to explore their ideas around embodiment,
displacement, and home in a series of discussions
and photo shoots. Collages are then made as a way
to facilitate visual
of participant stories." - Sarah Stefana Smith
did you college experience shape you as a person
professionally and personally?
college experience brought together many of the elements
of theory, experience, and injustice that I was only
just beginning to conceptualize as a young person.
I had the opportunity to attend an all women’s
HBCU and be a part of a legacy of women scholar-activists,
learning about such folk as bell hooks, Patricia
Hill-Collins, Marx, Paulo Freire, among many many
For me, college was a place I was fortunate to
experience; a place of learning and sharing where
I got my first inclination of the possibilities
as an activist, scholar, thinker and artist. One
of my fondest memories and taste of organizing
was right after September 11th happened. Folks
of Arab descent, Muslims, (whether perceived or
otherwise) were being rounded up, targeted, labeled,
racially profiled, mistreated. A collective I was
a part of, S.A.S.S.A.F.R.A.S among many others
marched through the campuses of the Atlanta University
Center and the surrounding neighborhood of West
End Atlanta, questioning these intentions. I had
my camera with me, thrilled to be a part of this;
brought you to Philadelphia and what's its strengths
and weaknesses that you can see?
school brought me to Philly. I was accepted into
a PHD program at Temple for Visual Anthropology.
I quickly realized it wasn’t for me and left
after a semester, however I stuck around Philly.
Philadelphia has been instrumental in creating more
of an activist gaze for me and also grounding me
as an artist. Specifically I have had the opportunity
to engage with like-minded artists, and media makers
that offer wonderful perspective on the work that
I am exploring.
Philadelphia is so amazing. I’ve gotten to
be involved in a lot of wonderful organizing work
around media justice, housing justice etc that has
greatly influenced my life. In many ways, it has
been like having a veil lifted, you know. All of
a sudden, I get it (some of it). We are supposed
to feel isolated and fragmented from one another
based on difference, based on class. I mean, that’s
why, Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s
Movement was so important, something to study and
look at. Not only bring together people on racial
lines but class, supporting each others struggles.
I think like any place, for me, it’s important
to move around. I think for now, I’ve taken
much of what I can get living here. I have plans
to move in the fall, but certainly can see myself
making Philadelphia a home again in the future.
kind of things, places, events, people do you capture
in your photography?
really interested is space and place and how human
beings interact with space, what kinds of imprint
we leave on tangible ground. I like to photograph
the simple and taken for granted. Those small moments
where we are doing the things that makes us human,
walking to school, cooking, cleaning the bathroom,
playing cards with friends, opening the front door
to say hello to a neighbor. My photographs are about
a glimpse into personal stories.
With my involvement with the Media Mobilizing Project
and the Anti Displacement Support Committee, I’ve
gotten to photograph actions, personal stories, and
lives that are key to documenting lived human experiences,
not just what mainstream media wants you to think
happens. It’s a powerful feeling being a part
I also like travel photography, places I’ve
not been to and places I see everyday.
- Waterloo, Trinidad
you favorite picture (or series) that's not yours?
really interested in the kind of work that Carrie
Mae Weems does. Not simply a photographer, she has
been know to create installations that incorporate
text and images silk screened onto panels of fabric
and hung from the ceiling. I’ve never experienced
her work first hand, but only through books and websites.
I really like The Jefferson Suite and The Louisiana
Project to parts of a trilogy. Her interest in the
unfolding of history, it’s intention, and the
art of questioning that she evokes throughout her
work. is inspiring.
I am really interested the works I am creating with
my project We Be The Space You Find. It’s an
ethnography project that both interviews and photographs
queer people of African descent around the ideas
of embodiment and displacement. I enjoy the stories
and experiences participants are sharing with me
and particularly like the fact that the collages
are a representation of the process involved, artist
interpretation, exchange between artist and participant.
you think photography can be a part of a progressive
social movement? Give an example for the people.
SS: I think
image making is critical to social movements. We
experience our lives visually in part by sight and
we get to share experiences visually, through video,
through photographs, through descriptive story. One
way to break the fragmentation between struggles
are through the sharing of stories and experiences.
Still stories of working class and poor folk, people
of color, sexual minorities, young people etc are
submerged from view or just wrong. Photography, image
making, shared meaning (whatever you want to call
it) offers a visibility to the most marginalized
that mainstream media isn’t going to provide
concept for this piece was the relationship between
past, present, and future. I wanted to explore ancestry
within African Diasporic communities. The images
were gathered from newspapers, google searches, and
my own personal collection. The branches, bark, and
twigs are the roots in this piece; pulling and reaching
towards one another from the top window box to the
window frame on the ground. This movement represents
the continuity and the relationship between pulling
from the past to create the future." - Sarah Stefana
you work with a team or collective you want to shout
SS: I have
had the honor of working with a number of brilliant
minds in the Media Mobilizing Project, the Anti-Displacement
Support Committee as well as have become a recent
participant of a collective of folk planning the
LGBTQI Women of Color conference in April of 2009.
mentors/artists you have been moved by?
are so so many that have influenced me at different
Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, Deborah Willis,
Octavia Butler, Lola Flash, Wangechi Mutu.
Sistagraphy→ Black Women Photographers based
out of Atlanta, Georgia. Philadelphia artists such
as Theodore Harris, Naima Lowe, Harvey Finkle,
There is so much inspiring and beautiful work out
sure to drop GeoClan a line at firstname.lastname@example.org