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Daniel Thomas Smith (London, UK)

Research scientist turned photographer talks to Dazed about inspirations and cameras versus tennis rackets

Formerly a research scientist, London-based Daniel Thomas Smith graduated with a Masters in Pharmacology and started a PhD in Neuro-imaging but left to pursue a career in photography. Initially only taking photos for memories sake, he got his hands on his first 'proper' camera just three years ago. With no official training or qualifications in photography, everything he learnt was on the job starting out with studio assisting and now has a substantial list of art, advertising and fashion photographers under his belt. Now moving on to solo ventures, Smith is currently working on two major portrait projects experimenting with a range of photographic effects and lighting.

... your work all about?
My work is about trying to produce what I see in my head... how undamaged an idea can remain between me having it and me photographing it. It's all about what I find interesting, pushing what I can achieve, documenting and trying to find beauty and interest in everyone and everything.

... the one photograph you wish you'd created?
Thats a tough one... there's so many... but if I had to pick one I'd have to say the front cover of Bob Dylan's Highway 61 revisited by Daniel Kramer. Everything about it is perfect... firstly it's Bob Dylan... then there's the folded sunglasses, the motor bike t-shirt and the camera in the background plus the stripy red t-shirt. Also the colours, patterns and lines all seem to make sense... it makes your eyes go round in circles.

... the world coming to?
I think were going through a bit of a blip at the minute... people feel lost, things are changing so fast, we don't have much time to stop and wonder where were being lead... there's not much reflection. Debt, rising religious fundamentalism, conservative ideals, I guess these are uncertain times and when scared, people start clinging to things. But like I say I think its a blip, I'm optimistic about the human enterprise... in general the world is becoming more liberal, the internet is connecting all our minds and blurring national boundries... we don't see each other as so different anymore. Each day were evloving better mechanisms to solve the worlds problems. It's weird though, sometimes I wonder if everything was perfect could we handle it? Seems in the modern world something has to be wrong - what would we do In a perfect world? The more we learn the better we get... knowledge and technology have a telescopic nature... it's going to keep getting faster till a huge fundermental change happens... I'm not sure what... maybe being able to download our consciousness and live forever... be made of silicon not carbon.

... the most important thing for an artist to remember?
Keep pushing it.... you can always do better.... I can't remember where I heard it but there's a saying something like... it's important to have the determination to suceed but have a non concern for results... in other words focus on the goal but don't beat yourself up about anything.

... the most inspiring thing you've ever seen?
The lead singer of the Flaming Lips, Wayne Coyne is truly inspiring. This comes across completely in the documentary "Fearless Freaks". His head truly is in the clouds, his whole life he seems to have always been himself, didn't let him self be changed by anyone. He's not scared to create and take a risk but is always respectful of others and appears to have a true empathy with other people and the universe. He's got an optimistic, dreamy, romantic view of the world with out being sentimental or irrational. He makes me think of the Jeffrey Lewis lyric "you don't have to act crazy to do something amazing". He doesn't do what he does to show off or get attention... he's genuine and genuinely gifted.

... the cleverest thing you've ever done?
I started a PhD in Neuro-imaging... I suppose that could be classed as clever... I quit to become a photographer.... maybe that answers the question about the most stupid thing I've ever done...

... the stupidest thing you've ever done?
I remember when I was about 12 saving up some money and making the conscious decision between buying a camera or a tennis racket. For some stupid reason I went for the racket. Even though I didn't get the camera, looking back now I've always had an obsession with documenting and capturing life in some form or another. maybe its a good thing I came to photography a little later on in life.
... equipment/film do you use? What do you like about what you use?
I shot a little bit of film but it's all digital now. I started in a digital world so it's normal for me... I know a lot of people had to unlearn or adjust to it. So camera wise it's either 35mm Canon 5D or Hassleblad H2 with digital back. I've found once I've been using a camera for a while you kind of melt in to it... you know all it's good and bad points, becomes a part of you and you kind of flow through it, you forget it's a camera, the world exists in the view finder. The 5d is good as it's quick to navigate around and the file sizes being smaller mean everything is less sluggish. Shooting medium format digital is the only way I've found to get that expensive/luxury/advertising look... sometimes though it can look "too" real... too accurate... almost scientific and lacking soul... it's easy for digital photography of any kind (especially heavily retouched) to feel cold.   

Who/what are your influences - art/film/literature/other photographers?
My main influence is music and youth culture... fashion, ideas, technology... most of the time it's real life... seems like my brain is always running a subconscious radar for even the tiniest thread to stimulate new ideas... so what people are wearing in the street, how a shadow hits a wall, someone missing the train that kind of thing. I believe in filling my head up with as many things as possible and somewhere in the there it'll fuse together and someting good will come out. If your brain gives you a good idea you have to act upon it to show your brain your grateful... hopefully it'll keep the ideas coming.

... what's next?
Just keep "pushing it". If not, I'll never be happy or completely satisfied... at least photographically! I want to die with unfinished business have half written book or photographic project. I'm looking forward to seeing where I end up.