Germantown photographer Tieshka Smith, whose work currently appears in an iMPeRFeCT Gallery exhibition called “The Other Germantown,” knows that inspiration isn’t always a pleasant experience.
Take, for instance, something that happened on Maplewood Mall during the June block party that locals worked hard to organize.
When a man sat down with a bag of peanuts, he started tossing shells onto the sidewalk. The littering caught Smith’s eye as she roamed with her camera. She confronted the man to ask that he pick up the mess. He refused.
So, she made the most of the moment by raising her beloved Nikon to capture a picture that she would title “Obstinate.”
The bigger picture
On display until Saturday, “The Other Germantown” mixes color and black-and-white photos taken on the streets.
Its diverse subjects are “those folks in Germantown who tend to be out of the loop or marginalized because of race and class,” Smith said Saturday when NewsWorks visited her at the Greene Street gallery.
As part of the exhibition, the photographer has been on-hand at the gallery for the last two Saturdays, offering free portraits to anyone who walks in. The portraits are taken with existing black-and-white photos as a backdrop.
“It’s a way to literally bring people into the exhibit, so they’re part of it,” Smith explained.
In addition to giving participants copies of their photos, Smith said she wants to mount another exhibit later on that features the informal portraits taken at “The Other Germantown.”
She said she hopes that inviting the community to see them would further the “conversation piece” about the region and its residents.
The current exhibition features Smith’s specialty: striking neighborhood narratives skirting the line between portraiture and street photography.
Some pictures, like one of a young pregnant woman cradling her belly on the sidewalk as a dented car rushes past, were caught when Smith approached her subjects and asked for a momentary pose.
Others were caught on the fly. “Gossip” features two sidewalk cell phone talkers oblivious to the camera; a trio of mannequins in the store window between them seems to be in on the conversation.
For Smith, the difference between portraiture and street photography is that in the latter people don’t realize how they’re interacting with the setting in which Smith captures them.
Sometimes, she said, the urge to capture a certain scene on camera can’t be explained until she looks at the images later.
“I see stuff and I snap it, and I don’t know what I have until I get home,” she explained. “What’s going on in the back of my head that made me snap that?”
Some were shot in an instant “from the hip,” including “Joy,” in which a little girl runs smiling down the sidewalk, clutching a single yellow balloon’s string.
Others, even of young subjects, have a troubling air of disillusion: the black-and-white “Hand on Her Hip” shows a smudged, downcast youngster wielding a broom on her dad’s front steps.
“Iron Grip,” one of the largest color prints in the exhibition, was taken at the eye level of a little girl whose distracted mother grasps her wrist as a bus rumbles past.
“There is that iron-grip moment, but it’s tender,” gallery co-owner Renny Molenaar observed, musing on the way the picture captures the simultaneous toughness and affection of parenthood.
Staking out a shot
While Smith doesn’t make a habit of pursuing a subject for more than one image, she does like to stake out certain locations for different pictures over time.
A little over a year ago, she shot “Baby Baby Please,” which shows a flustered man and woman “doing their couple thing” as the man grasps the woman’s elbow outside the 99 Cents Plus store.
This year, Smith captured an image she calls “I Used To Shop Here,” showing two people passing silently in front of a grated blue storefront where 99 Cents Plus used to be.
To her, a series like that captures the way “Germantown is constantly in a state of flux; here today, gone tomorrow.”
“The Other Germantown” will be on display at iMPeRFeCT Gallery through Saturday.
Locals who want to participate in Smith’s ongoing portrait project can visit the gallery for another open session on Saturday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The gallery, located at 5601 Greene St., is open Thursday through Saturday from 1 p.m. until 6 p.m.