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District of Columbia, July 4, 2014
Each photo in Smith's collection carries only the location name and the time and date of the photo. This one was captured in the District of Columbia, on July 4, 2014. He'll tell some stories behind the photos in his show, but as for captions, he says, "I'm giving myself the discipline, the challenge of just having the image speak for itself."
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Columbia, Tennessee, April 3, 2014
Smith, who grew up in Westport, Connecticut, discovered over the course of the project that he had ancestors who were early settlers of Columbia County, New York, and Columbia, Tennessee, where this photo here was taken. But that family history had a shadow, with roots in slave ownership and white conflict with Native Americans. For the show, he says, he’s been working on "how to own [the history] without it being just sad and overwhelming."
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M/V Columbia, Alaska, June 20, 2015
Smith said he came up with the idea for the project first, then brainstormed until he hit upon the idea of focusing on Columbia: "I'm an artist, and artists are always looking for projects to do." He captured this quiet moment aboard the M/V Columbia, a ferry for the Alaska Marine Highway System, in 2015.
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District of Columbia, June 7, 2014
"I really do want to show as much variety of American life as possible," Smith says. The effort has taken him to towns, waters and the nation's capital, where he captured this scene from a 2014 Pride event.
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Columbia, Alabama, October 17, 2012
This image taken early in the project, in Columbia, Alabama, shows an 8-year-old girl receiving a “God’s Little Princess Bible” from her family.
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Columbia, Iowa, February 1, 2016
Smith gained remarkable access to people's lives given that he was often coming into town—in this case, Columbia, Iowa—as a stranger. "I would just network," he says.
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Columbia Basin, September 17, 2015
Smith spent time with different Native American tribes during the project, with a goal from the start to show Native Americans as being part of the American story. Too often when a photographer visits a reservation, he says, "it will be what is called ‘poverty porn,’ and there's no sense that Native Americans are part of American life aside from this very sad story." He took this photo in the Columbia Basin in Pendleton, Oregon, in the fall of 2015.
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Columbia, California, October 24, 2015
Smith took this picture in Columbia, California, in the fall of 2015. "This is going to sound sort of airy-fairy," he says, "but to some extent, I feel like this isn't just my project. This is a project that belongs to everybody."
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Columbia River, August 27, 2015
A self-described liberal, Smith says he avoided talking about politics or hot-button issues with his photo subjects. But he did make conversations when he was off-duty and without his camera. "I ask questions of a lot of people from all walks of life," he says. "I may live in a bubble in terms of the news that I get, but in terms of who I meet, I hope that I don't live in a bubble." He captured this image in Celilo, Oregon, along the banks of the Columbia River.
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District of Columbia, July 4, 2014
Though based in D.C., Smith also house sits and visits family and friends. "I have been a wanderer these last few years," he says. "Sometimes I'm in D.C., sometimes I'm in Portland, Oregon, sometimes I'm in Connecticut, sometimes I'm in upstate New York." He captured this image in the nation's capital on Independence Day.
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The Man Behind the Camera
Smith began to hate staying in hotels, prompting the purchase of his minivan. He still travels around in it periodically and maintains a day job photographing private art collections for a set of magazines including American Art Collector. Smith continues to seek new Columbias and new faces. "I need to get some broader socioeconomic and ethnic representation for the book," he says.