Janet K. Smith



Published, EAC Communiqué, Autumn 199

Did you take art in school, or was it something you enjoyed?

Art was something that I enjoyed. Both my grandmother and mother did oil paintings. I have done pastels, charcoal, pen and ink drawings and particularly enjoyed pointillism. I was involved with an artist-run gallery in Kitchener many years ago.

Why did you specifically choose photography for expressing yourself, as opposed to staying with drawing or another medium?

I took a photography course in Fergus. The instructor, Scott Grigsby-Lehmann really inspired me to pursue photography. Along with the basics he also taught me a few tricks. For instance, water…how you can stop the action or you can make it look beautiful and soft, like cotton. He made me take pictures of the same scene at different speeds and I started to get the first inklings of how you could use the camera to express your point of view.

Tell us something about the equipment you use.

My main camera is a manual 35mm Nikon FM2. I also have an old manual medium format Mamiya. Manual cameras allow me to make my own decisions on exposure and speed to achieve the desired effect I’m after for each image.

Do you do all of your own developing, printing, and so on?

Yes, with the exception of developing slides. Temperature control is extremely important and therefore most slides are developed in professional labs. I take these slides and hand print my own Cibachrome prints. Cibachromes are archival prints with incredibly vibrant colours, sharpness and colour saturation. For black and white, I process my own negatives and prints. These prints are then toned using only thiocarbamide-based sepia toner, selenium or gold toners, which like Cibachromes, makes them archival. Archiving is a process that stabilizes the print which allows it to maintain its integrity for over 100 years.

When did you start doing black and white? I gather colour came first?

Yes, I initially started in colour but within a year began working with black and white. I got into photography like anyone else. You know, you take pictures when you go on vacation. I was using colour negative film then. After the Fergus course I switched to colour transparencies, then decided I’d like to explore black and white as well.

Would you consider your work to be more abstract or realistic?

Abstract, especially for my colour work. I love it when people ask, “What is that?” I’m not attempting to document something per se…I just see things a certain way. I guess one of the things is that you can find beauty in even the most mundane objects.

With my black and white work I’m moving away from straight printing to using alternative printing techniques that give a more “painterly effect”.

You’re doing a filtering process, only you’re doing it with a camera. You’re effectively editing in the same way a painter does.

Yes, but it’s not that simple. A photographer must wait for the light and the subject to be just as you wish it to be… you can not create it the same way a painter could, editing anything that wasn’t just right. With photography you “capture” a moment in time. Yes, you can decide how much of the scene to record on film, how much is in focus, etc., but you cannot say, “Remove all the tourists posing in front of the lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove”. Film also has its limitations. It cannot record light as the human eye does. The darkroom allows you to work around some of this issue, but not to the same extent as a painter could.

The darkroom allows you to work around some of this issue, but not to the same extent as a painter would.

Are there any photographers whose work you particularly admire?

Yes, John Sexton for straight black and white fine prints, Tim Rudman and Eddie Ephraums for alternate black and white, and finally, Freeman Patterson for colour work.

You’re obviously interested in lith printing. What exactly is it?

Lith printing is a process where you take normal black and white negatives and then print onto lith paper with lith chemistry. It gives you images that look more like drawings then photographs. (Quote from Tim Rudmans’ book) “Lith printing can be very rewarding but time-consuming and often frustrating.” So true! I love the results, but getting there is another story. The variables with this technique allow for a great range of artistic express but these variables can also lead to your downfall. After three days work, you are ready to pull your final print and out of nowhere, there are random blotches all over the print. Why??? That is lith.

The range of colours you can achieve with this process are stunning…blues, peaches, yellows, olives, various sepia shades and just plain old black and white. Throw in a few toning tricks and your options increase. You can shift the final print colour, intensify it or split tone it.

Because of continuous time spent in the darkroom, my frustration level is now lower. The combination of paper exposure, chemistry dilution, chemistry temperature, developer exhaustion and toning are all becoming a little less unpredictable.

How do you display your work? Do you have a gallery, do you do shows?

I’ve done 17 exhibits to date. I started exhibiting in the fall of 1997, at the Kitchener Public Library. Other exhibits have included the Eldon Gallery in Waterloo, Wellington County Museum, Leyanders in Elora, INSIGHTS and the Studio Tour. I have recently opened my gallery here in Fergus.

I am very much a traditional photographer and would like to explore more alternative processes. I would also like to dabble in pinhole photography.

What are your aims or goals in your art?

To sell it.

Not something…mmm…normal like self-expression.

Obviously, but it has been four years, and I find myself asking, “What am I doing?” My ability to produce far exceeds my ability to sell the finished pieces. It’s a very expensive means of self-expression.

As someone who is self taught, I have found photography to be very challenging yet satisfying. I have learned a lot and there is still so much to learn. I am very much a traditional photographer and would like to explore more alternative processes. I would also like to dabble in pinhole photography, kind of like search for my roots. Digital photography holds no interest for me at all.

Originally in conversation with O. Domjan, revised by Janet K. Smith

UPDATE – 2005

Janet says, “I have had several more exhibits in Elora, Kitchener-Waterloo, and recently Toronto” but, she says, “alas, the work still keeps accumulating. I have had the great fortune to meet and work with both Freeman Patterson and Tim Rudman. Truly wonderful experiences!”

Janet reflects: “I am currently taking a time-out from photography to enjoy my new husband, Oban our puppy, and to work on restoring our century home and gardens. But as with riding a bike, although I have fallen off, I will ride again. My antique and homemade pinhole cameras are calling me!”