Smile! Barry Smith frames a show on photography |

Smile! Barry Smith frames a show on photography

Paul Conrad Aspen Times Weekly

Throughout his college career, Barry Smith focused laserlike on photography. Unfortunately, Smith’s college years ” make that weeks ” didn’t even last long enough for him to declare a major, and that consuming interest in photography left him lacking in certain areas. For one, he never bought a camera. And Smith’s first job in the Roaring Fork Valley, as a darkroom technician and then photographer, at the Snowmass Sun, amazingly didn’t require developing his art that much.

“It’s a lifelong fascination that I never really got around to,” said Smith, who writes the Irrelativity column for The Aspen Times. “At some point, I decided the snapshot was my medium.”

Despite the lack of gear, talent and expertise, photography has remained a major interest for Smith. An unrepentant pack rat with a craving for looking back over his life, he spends oodles of time poring over his collection of old family pictures. His two one-person shows to date, “Jesus In Montana: Adventures in a Doomsday Cult” and “Squatter,” were multimedia autobiographical accounts, with Smith’s narration punctuated by selections from the photo album.

With his next show, Smith points his attention squarely on photography. “Click” has its first workshop performance on Saturday, Feb. 23, at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale, where the Aspen humorist has tested his previous stage pieces. Two years ago at Steve’s, Smith did what he called his Barry Smith Comedy Project Experiment Thing ” a superhuman effort that had him performing four brand-new, hour-long shows over four weeks.

“Squatter,” his award-winning show about his time spent squatting in a London flat, came out of the Project Experiment Thing. But after doing “Jesus in Montana” ” about his exploits in a Montana cult ” and “Squatter,” Smith wanted to get away from strict autobiography.

“Click,” said Smith, “gives me a chance to delve into this pile of pictures and see what emerges.

One might rightly ask, then, is there anything more autobiographical than digging through the stash of family photos you have squirreled away and kept at your side well into adulthood? But Smith says he is reaching beyond photos as aids to visual jokes.

“As I looked at this huge collection of family photographs I have, I figured there had to be a show in there ” beyond just, ‘Hey, let me show you some pictures,'” said Smith, who is 41 and tall.

In previous shows, Smith has shown a knack for starting with small autobiographical episodes and expanding into broader themes. “Squatter” became an exploration of his relationship with his neat-nut father and the ultimate uselessness of youthful rebellion; “Jesus In Montana” took a skewed look at religion and the weird things we believe. In “Click,” which Smith was still writing as of early this week, issues of nostalgia and advancing technology, how it has changed the way we look at and think about photography, come up for comedic exploration.

“These photos from the ’70s and before ” when I hold one of those, I’m mesmerized. And it’s not just because it’s of me and my family,” he said. “It’s something about what 40 years of time has done to this photograph. In the ’70s, taking a picture was more of a special event than it is now. Now, if you go bowling, there will be 200 photos of you and your friends bowling. Eight of the 10 guys will have digital cameras. It’s like we’re in a constant photo shoot.

“In the ’70s, taking pictures involved a flash cube, weeks of processing time. It wasn’t like you could click wantonly. And yet I have pictures of hilariously mundane things. There’s something about that that’s alluring to me. And funny.”

Smith is scratching at an issue he might have gotten around to studying in college: how we define ourselves through the still, visual image. “We tend to find ourselves by connecting with these images from the past,” he said.

Realizing he was veering dangerously close to serious academia, Smith clarified himself: “I think artists should be able to present their work in both pretentious and nonpretentious ways, depending on the audience,” he said. “I’m trying to practice both. ‘Photos are neato-o’ ” that would be my nonpretentious way.”

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