The world needs more people like photographic artist Jaylon Smith, a 2019 graduate of SCAD’s commercial photography program and managing partner of Huein Studios, a multicultural media and creative agency in Atlanta. His latest exhibit, The Land of Milk and Honey, doesn’t merely pull back the curtain on the ever-patient, unforgiving and ever-steady African women cradling the American dream. Smith’s work yanks back that curtain so hard you may no longer consider it recyclable or even salvageable. While the sight behind the curtain is not for the sorest of our privileged eyes, it’s one we can’t look away from.
Smith, 23, presents The Land of Milk and Honey with fire in his eyes and soul. Its motif holds meaning for him: South Sudan, he says, has some of the most disastrous health indicators in the world. Between political conflict, economic suffering and a shortage of clean water, the world’s youngest country is deemed generally unsafe to live in. Smith seeks to illustrate the challenges faced by African women who migrate to the United States. Art and being African American are inseparable for him.
The exhibit is a digitally enhanced photographic pairing using a medium format film camera with digital compositing and is part of the SCAD Key Light Alumni Photography Challenge 2021. Smith’s first art exhibit since 2019, The Land of Milk and Honey is a virtual exhibition showing August 22-29 on Doré Art Collective’s website.
ArtsATL spoke with Smith about the exhibit and his background.
ArtsATL: What inspired The Land of Milk and Honey?
Jaylon Smith: I was inspired by renowned photographer Albert Watson’s striking portraits of Duckie Thot and Naomi Campbell — on display in the Albert Watson: The Light Behind the Lens exhibition at SCAD FASH. By positively photographing women of color, my intent is to deprecate the fashion industry’s systems and standards of beauty. Immigrants often refer to America as the land of milk and honey, which to them is a place for new opportunities and a better environment for their family. It is essential for an artist to visually tell stories of underserved communities and it’s impactful when artists use their platform to advocate for vulnerable populations, including those in war-torn regions.
ArtsATL: Who are your influences?
Smith: My influences range from fellow peers to entrepreneurs and artists, including digital architect Iddris Sandu, fashion photographer Nick Knight, Makumbi Muleba, J Young MDK and Justin Phillips, co-founder of the Support Black Colleges brand. These individuals have a tenacious work ethic, and they radiate positive energy, which inspires me. Vivid hues inspire me. In my artwork, the colors are one of the most important components. I often include triadic and split-complementary color schemes in my work.
Fear is one of the biggest destroyers of success. As an ambitious person, when it comes to reaching my goal, I’m forced to let go of fear. Whether I succeed or not, I would have learned throughout the process. I’ve realized it’s not about succeeding on the first try. Sometimes you have to learn from your mistakes and establish the win later on.
ArtsATL: How artistic is your family?
Smith: I am the most artistic in my family. My father is a businessman, my brother is exceptional in economics, and my mother has a marketing background and is creative as well. That’s seemingly where I get my artistic ability. I began drawing early in life, so I don’t remember my first piece of art. I remember creating portraits as gifts to my parents for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. I became an avid artist in elementary school. I drew whatever developed in my imagination, and it was very therapeutic for me. I also made friends through drawing in grade school. Sometimes we had competitions to see who could draw the quickest.
ArtsATL: Where were you when you picked up the camera for the first time?
Smith: My high school art teacher, Mrs. Crews, was the person who introduced me to photography. She noticed I was skilled at graphic design, so she suggested I give photography a try. She taught me the basics and prepared me for SCAD.
ArtsATL: Tell me about being a photographer in Atlanta.
Smith: Atlanta is an impressive community for collaboration. The supportive arts scene encourages people to follow their passions. Photography is art. With emerging technologies like smartphones, the debate [about the fine line] between photography and art has become a hot topic. For me, pop culture is a happy medium. It’s something about photographing the latest fashion, music, art, sports and technology that excites and energizes me.
ArtsATL: How do you feel you have influenced others?
Smith: I’m passionate about teaching creatives how to market and monetize their work. Oftentimes creatives are talented in the arts, but not in business practices. I’ve been blessed with parents who have marketing and business backgrounds, so understanding how to properly market my art comes naturally. I stay emphatic and ambitious during the good, bad and the ugly. I presume that’s what people admire about me because it’s not easy. I mentor creatives through the year and tell them never to get too high and never get too low. If you continuously stay humble, you will be rewarded for your character.