'The Art of Unpacking' with Photographer Alpha Smoot



Alpha Smoot draws the eye to whatever subject she is capturing, honing a talent for highlighting vivid contrast and poised composition. Like many of us, Smoot's work as of late has been driven by current events, challenging paradigms of the past and ushering in a more inclusive future.

In her own words, "I've been doing a lot of unpacking lately...Everything has felt so hard for so long, and this year has gotten incrementally harder until it began rupturing over and over. Begging the question from so many when is enough enough? But also - why would you want to go back to normal when normal wasn’t very good either. 

Unpacking slowly requires time and patience. Taking one thing out of the box at a time and really analyzing why you packed it in the first place and if you want to continue using it in your new realm. Is it still relevant, helpful, useful? Is it still beautiful to you? Is it a remnant of something you used to believe that now disgusts you? It’s an incredibly tedious process, I often want to be done quickly and move onto my life, get back to normal. But the last couple years have revealed to me that normal isn’t what I expect anymore. It needs to be better, and that requires a lot of unpacking." 




How did quarantine challenge you?

Oh in so many ways!  I had really just gotten back in a work groove after having my son in 2019. We had just sorted out childcare and felt like we were regaining some sense of normalcy  but then my work came to a halting stop and it took a bit of time to figure out how to transfer my work into my home and also to get clients to trust my ability to shoot at home. I'm sure this goes for so many parents this year but we really switched into survival mode for a few months. The thing we really had to let go of was balance because with a small child at home and both of us trying to keep our careers going it meant working mostly at night and spending most weekends setting ourselves up to churn another week out!




How have you been spending your time? Have you found ways to stay creative?

I have an 18 month old so I spend pretty much all of my time with him, or cleaning up after him :) His world is still so simple and small so we do a lot of things on repeat, play in the sprinkler, walk around the park, pull everything out of every basket and drawer in the house.  Most of my creativity right now goes into ways to occupy my kiddo or ways to prevent him from hurting himself. After he goes to bed at night I really enjoy turning my brain off for a few hours before bed!





What three words would you use to describe yourself?

Genuine, Stubborn, Passionate

How did you find photography and how has it evolved for you?

I found photography through my Dad, he always offered up old cameras that he had collected for me to use and learn on when I was growing up. He put a darkroom in the basement so we could learn film processing. I didn't take great photos when I was a kid-- but even then I was attracted to still life. I was usually photographing my dolls or toys in various arrangements. I photographed my friends in high school and joined the newspaper team which led me to cover sports and I loved it! Something about a press pass and being allowed on the sideline was extremely thrilling for me. I thought I'd really want to pursue photojournalism but in college I sort of retreated back into still life and studio work. I'm fairly shy about asking permission to photograph things- and I really don't like inserting myself where I haven't been invited, so street photography is excruciatingly painful. I have come to realize in more recent years that photographing models grants that permission aspect and I have added that to the "enjoy" list. But walking up to someone on the street still makes me so uncomfortable. 




What is your creative process like?

I always appreciate a narrative or backstory when I approach a project. It helps me navigate my choices-- what the lighting should look/feel like, overall look and feel, what it is I'm trying to capture etc. If it's for an editorial I always like to ask if there's been a story written, if it's a commercial client I appreciate when they give me as much brand backstory as possible. If it's just for myself I often write or brainstorm the backstory for myself even if it never sees the light of day- it just helps inform my choices.




Where is home for you?

That's a question I've been thinking about a lot this year. It finally feels like NYC is home for me. I've always had one foot out the door but we finally bought a place in the bronx and I think I'm here for a good long while. This year has raised a lot of questions for me about where I want to be rooted, but I've seen my community here grow really close during all of this and it's made me realize that is all I could hope for in a home!




What inspires you?

Nature & People. Being out in untouched nature is really the best thing for me to feel wonder and beauty. I always want to try to capture that in some way in my work and my life. And People continue to inspire me, every time I think I've lost a little faith in humans, I'll meet someone that really inspires me and gives me hope for our world. 

What advice would you offer to your younger self?

Be as thoughtful as you can in every circumstance. I think I did an OK job of living life to it's fullest and taking advantage of the time I had, but I would urge myself to be more mindful of the world around me and more thoughtful in my interactions. 

What are you dreaming of?

A Child-Free Vacation :) Hopefully we will be able to see parents and family soon and be able to sneak away for a few days of sleep !



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