Jamie Smith navigates the gaps between still images and our experience of seeing. She understands the influences of memory, association and inner reflection that play on how we process our surroundings and how we negotiate our place within them.
Smith has traveled widely and carries with her the impacts of deeply felt exposure to a range of cultural and social experiences. Specific events, people, and places from her travels so poignantly occupy her memory as to jar her present experience here in Canada. Understanding that our history and perceptions inevitably overlap and bleed into one another, Smith became fascinated by the possibilities of layering actual imagery. Analog photography provided the first inspiration by way of a seemingly inauspicious medium-format Holga camera. She used this model during a year in South America; with almost no image formatting features in its low-fi makeup, it did offer the option of simply not winding the film forward between shots. Smith serendipitously found in this a doorway to overlay images as she was finding her experiences overlaid, the history of one moment impacting the next.
Visiting Serbia and Bosnia on another journey sharpened her sense of the lenses through which we and others observe, including shared experiences from distinct perspectives. Contradictions and connections live in our consciousness in layers. They overlap each other and we cannot easily compartmentalize one experience from the next. Still, they inform our understanding and perception of the external world. Smith continues to negotiate this idea in her lived travels and in her photography processes.
Her Spun Sugar series progressed further from the initial in-camera overlays, incorporating image-transfer after development, as well as sweeping applications of paint and colour. There is both familiarity and surrealism in the scenes Smith creates. The places are real, but dislocated through her overlays and composition. Smith notes, “The buildings are Spanish buildings left now in disarray in Central America, which has its own layered history and context. They are already not where they belong.”
Smith’s more recent work, Rituals and Remains, uses direct illustration to explore more personal aspects of her engagement with world culture and custom as experienced through individual feeling, memory, and narrative. She draws shared elements across a variety of funeral rituals. For instance, in each piece, she interweaves the funeral vessel, the ceremonial flowers, and the building of worship into a single unit. While each piece and the culture it reflects is distinct, the consistency in size and composition allow us to continue along the common threads she finds through her journeys, research, and work.
Progressing to a focus on painting in Rituals and Remains has also allowed Smith more tangible intimacy with its themes, all keenly felt through processing the loss of her grandmother. Her broader family history also inspires ongoing questions about our memories and stories as they themselves travel through shared reminiscences and lore. Her current research projects have led her to focus the lens onto her own family history. The medium is again assemblage of paintings, now highlighting those key stories that remain through retellings, across generations, to become cornerstones of lasting family narrative. Smith explores how these survive, modulate, and gain meaning, all with researched reference to the hero’s journey and our cultural story structures.
Jamie Smith’s work is dedicated to journeying, both externally and internally, and finding integration between disparate cultures, individuals, and experiences. In a single body of work, she reflects an intrepid engagement with a variety of media and approaches, and a commitment to unify and cross-reference. The questions that spur her investigations are of a depth that they, and she, will not soon settle.