Sophie Smyke, class of '17, has been a prolific contributor to the Spectator magazine, appearing in over four issues during her time at BB&N. The Spectator sat down with Sophie to discuss her work, experience, and inspiration.
From a young age, Sophie Smyke ’17 has been surrounded by photography. Starting in third grade, her passion for the medium came from an unlikely source—her math teacher, Ms. Twarog. “She was the first person who got me excited about photography,” Sophie recalls, “and I still stay in touch with her to talk about art.” Family friend Maura Conron also helped guide an inexperienced Sophie as she began exploring the novel world of photography, teaching her how to use different camera lenses and honing her technical skills. Every summer, Maura and Sophie spend two weeks together practicing photography, and what once was an educational vacation for Sophie has now become a mutual learning experience as her own skill has grown.
Upper School photography teacher Parrish Dobson, however, has undoubtedly been Sophie’s biggest influence. While she has enjoyed all four years spent with Ms. Dobson, Sophie hails her Junior photography class as a favorite. “It was 6 or 7 girls and Ms. Dobson– we got super close! My favorite thing about that class was that we were all working on unique projects. Everyone was going in their own direction, it was very personal.” Sophie also appreciates how Ms. Dobson immerses her students in the art form. “Sometimes, we research famous photographers or go visit galleries to see professional work.” Compared to these esteemed photographers, Sophie admits that her work has a tendency to get “pretty repetitive,” and explains that Ms. Dobson is always helping her to “do the next thing, push myself, do a little more.” This year, Sophie is taking an independent study with Ms. Dobson. Her work has primarily focused on composing cyanotypes, a blue, monochromatic printing technique, of photos she took of Versailles.
Often, Sophie finds herself drawn towards scenes of bright, saturated color. “I love color. When I travel, colors pop out at me, for obvious reasons. I just love the way that different colors evoke different feelings, coolness and warmth.” Sophie is also an experienced hand at nature photography, especially landscapes. “I love landscapes, but when they’re not done right, they’re super boring,” Sophie laughs. “Because of that, when you shoot a good one it’s very satisfying. Landscapes let me bring back stories from the places I’ve traveled to.” On a recent trip to Morocco, Sophie taught English and French to students in the Atlas mountains. Her photograph Angelic Girl (Winter, 2016), is a portrait of one of these students, and she reflects that, like her landscapes, the “photo is a way to share not just the places, but also the people I’ve met in the world.”
Other photographic destinations of Sophie’s, such as Switzerland and Cuba, reflect a similar sentiment. Despite the diversity of places she has traveled, Sophie remarks that, no matter where she is, “there are underlying common themes that you find… the life and culture of where you are can only be brought out by the people or the environment around you.” Her photography, no matter the technique or style, is evocative of the memory, the feeling, the essence of a place. When she returns to Massachusetts, camera in hand, she brings home the ultimate souvenir.