For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed award winning photographer and author Diane Smook. For her latest project Love & War: The World War II Letters of Arthur Smook, she edited her father’s letters (and two of her mother’s) and combined them with photographs and other historical material to create a record of one of “the greatest generation.” Diane will reading excepts from her book at the Chatham Public Library in Chatham NY on January 28th. For more information about Diane, click here.
Q: What are you currently working on? Tell us about it.When my mother died, I inherited a box of the letters that my dad wrote to her during WWII. When I read them in order I found two compelling story lines – one of a love moving from buddy type friendship to passion; and another of my dad’s arc from training troops to shipping out to Europe, fighting in the Battle of the Bulge among others, running various German prisoner stockades after the war, and finally returning home to marry. I edited and organized them, was unsuccessful in getting a publisher, and put them aside. Twenty years later I realized that I could publish them myself. I reedited, learned what to do and published the book through Amazon. I got help from a writer friend who made me add footnotes and totally rewrite the introduction. It is sometimes good to take advice. The book is called Love & War: The World War II Letters of Arthur Smook. It includes many photographs and, believe it or not, is a page-turner.
Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?I studied portraiture with Philippe Halsman years ago. I still follow his principles when I shoot portraits. When I was younger I shot a lot of headshots for actors as a result of my study with Mr. Halsman. I studied darkroom printing with George Tice, a master of his craft and a wonderful teacher. I have printed all but the largest images in my black and white exhibits in my own darkroom. I love seeing those images emerge from the baths and making them as perfect as I can.
Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist? Curiosity. When I see something I want to shoot, I can’t wait to begin and see how the concept develops. The starting point is always just a starting point. I am always curious to see how I will find elements of my work that are not good enough and improve my initial vision.
Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?
I am a photographer and I love to make images. When I have an idea for a project I just leap into it. I am interested in the artistic process and am a bit of an opportunist. I worked on a book on the making of the full round statues for the FDR Memorial Park in Washington DC when my friend, sculptor Neil Estern, was working on them. I loved documenting the progression from tiny models to scale models to enlargement and bronze casting. I was struck by the forceful personae emerging out of inert substances and Neil’s interaction with them.
Likewise, through a dancer friend, I got to know the work of dance choreographer Isabel Gotzkowsky. We worked together on a project documenting the collaborative process of creating works for a season of performance.
Both projects are on my website. www.dianesmook.com
My husband and I have a farm in upstate New York. I spent several years photographing dead or dying flowers, like Queen Anne’s Lace. I find the shapes very beautiful. Lately I have become interested in the geometry of fields of hay bales. That is leading me to document the juxtaposition of bales with the evidence of modernization in this historically rural area.
Q: What has been your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?Family obligations. Easier now, but I always had to earn a living and had day jobs. I borrowed darkrooms on weekends. When I shot the book on the FDR statues I was married, had a job and had a child at home. I had to organize my work on the dining room table and clear it away every evening. It was very difficult but I did it.
Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?
I am persistent. Once I see what I want to achieve in a project, I keep at it, even if it takes a long time to complete. Also persistence in overcoming obstacles. It was a big leap to begin to work digitally. But once I took classes and learned what I needed to process the files and make fine prints, a new world of color photography and the digital printing possibilities was opened up to me.
Q: Where would you most like to live?
I am blessed to be both in NYC and upstate New York, where my husband grew up. I love the artistic resources and ease of transportation in the city and the quiet and photographic inspiration I find upstate, where my studio and darkroom are located.
Q: What is your idea of happiness?
Quiet time upstate with my husband to work and contemplate.
Q: Final Thoughts?
Some of my best work has come out of saying yes to opportunities, even if I was unsure of how well I could rise to the occasion. You never know what will happen the next day. Everything can seem like it is going wrong but you never know how it might turn around tomorrow. I wish I were better at marketing my work, though.