Rick Smith loves downtown Los Angeles. In his decades practicing both photojournalism and a more personal, art-inflected style of street photography, Smith has had reason to visit, revisit and visit again the Skid Row community, which is growing in population yet being squeezed on all sides by expanding developments in Little Tokyo, the Fashion District, the Historic Core and Arts District neighborhoods.
Over the years, his frequent walks along the side streets and alleys, freeway overpasses and public spaces have brought Smith into the lives of a number of area denizens, especially the increasing homeless population whose presence has come to define the policy failings of the city. It’s an epic scene of urban neglect but, as Smith is so deftly able to capture, its residents are simply human beings in a bad situation.
Influenced by Depression-era photographers, both in terms of the WPA-like, journalistic impulse to document as well as by the high-contrast, black-and-white aesthetic of the period, Smith looks for what he calls “the grit and humanity” of the neighborhood, with an eye for cinematic compositions and evocative perspectives.
Whether the result of quick-fire candid snaps, or more intimate portraiture resulting from conversation and even collaboration with his subjects, each one of Smith’s images is both informative and emotional. The expressive dignity of Smith’s photographs exists to remind everyone not only of the awfulness of his subjects’ circumstances but also of the dignity they deserve.
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His full collection of portfolios can be viewed at his website, and a number of prints are currently included in a group exhibition in a pop-up gallery downtown. “Another Scene From Your City” brings together several artists who each have a unique perspective on the intensity of life in the neighborhood, installed at the new Mad for Me gallery space on an upper floor of the historic Los Angeles Apparel Mart building (above Pattern Bar), through June 1, by appointment.