Stefano Cagnato, TSP’s
Kalamazoo College Intern Fiction Editor, talks to W.D. Chandler Smith
Stefano Cagnato for
The Smoking Poet: How did this project come about?
W.D. Chandler Smith: I
want to be a photojournalist. I got into photography because I saw this
photographer named Gilles Peress, and he is a Magnum photographer. He was in
Bosnia during their civil war, during the very beginning. His black and white
images—at that time I was taking a class in International Politics. I never
really understood it until I saw his images, the way he expresses thoughts
without words. I was drawn to photography in a war zone, and Egypt was the
place for me to do that. I decided to go for it and see what I could find, what
answers I could obtain from this trip. I went back to Egypt, because the first
time I went I didn’t do a good job of answering the questions I had. Now I’ve
realized I have to give it a third shot, so I’m returning to Egypt to continue
were these photos taken? Why is the location important to you?
W.D. Chandler: Some in
Kalamazoo. Most of the other ones were taken in or around Cairo. I’ve been able
to travel a lot through Ecuador and Egypt, which helps me develop a sense of
the place and capture what I want to capture. One of the photos from Ecuador is
of Lucho in the mangrove. I was inspired by a photographer named Sebastião
Salgado, who is a really famous Brazilian photographer, and he focuses on
manual labor jobs around the country. There are these beautiful stark black and
white images of people just doing their job, and they look exhausted. I went
with some friends into this coastal town in Ecuador and they taught me how to
find clams and I photographed them. It’s important to me to shoot people in
places they are used to.
photographs are portraits or feature people as the center of focus, while
others are more about architecture or objects. How do the people in the
photographs inform the subject matter? Why did you choose the portraits and the
specific people you photographed?
W.D. Chandler: You can
take a picture of anything, but in order to actually make a photograph, you
need to put something more into it, and the picture of the guy on top of the
bus—I like composition a lot. Composition is what I aim for most in my
photographs. In this photograph, there’s someone leaning on the bus, and
there’s a flag obscuring a large part of the photograph, and this represents
the feeling of the situation when Morsi was elected. It brings together the
emotion of the time period and the way the people themselves are celebrating,
away from the square and away from the television cameras. It allows you to
feel what was going on. I’m all about the Cartier-Bresson technique, the
decisive moment, the one millisecond that explains the minutes before and after
it, and I think that happens, especially if it’s a revolution or a protest. But
it also happens in my portraits. With the photograph of Abdulatif, I aimed for
a dark photograph in a beautiful city street of Cairo. Compositionally it’s
fairly basic, but the light behind him that reaches his kneecaps focuses the
viewer on his body.
connects these photographs?
W.D. Chandler: The
composition. There is a common thread with how I play with traditional
composition and mix it up depending on the situation. I work a lot in order to
highlight something that’s going on. I don’t like to do it with depth of field;
I like to do that with composition. It adds a lot of complexity to the photo.
Stefano: What is
one thing you want the viewer to get from experiencing your photographs?
W.D. Chandler: With
the Egypt photographs, I want the viewer to understand how dynamic the
situation is. The photographs look similar, but in every photograph, the people
are always protesting for something different. That was the focus of my
project: trying to document and explain how all these alliances work and how
the protests themselves function. One of the reasons why I wanted to go to
Egypt is because I saw all these images of Tahrir Square, and when I actually
ended up going, it was completely different than what I thought it was. Trying
to bring that experience to people who haven’t seen it is a really difficult
path. So that was my goal: to try and bring this experience to people who have
not experienced it. I don’t know if I succeeded, but I’m not done trying.