Since moving to Victoria in 2011, Smith has documented everything from rallies, music festivals, and recently the COVID-19 pandemic.
This article is part of our West Coast Creatives series, which intends to highlight the work of young local artists and the mindsets that drive their creativity forward. From emerging student creatives to established professionals, we’re hoping to spotlight some of the amazing artists our region has to offer.
Colin Smith began building his portfolio in music and concert photography by taking pictures of everyone from Canadian greats like the Tragically Hip to American rapper Snoop Dogg.
Smith moved to the west coast from Ontario in 2011 and now works in Victoria. His most recent work captures the moments in the Legislative Assembly’s press gallery when Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Minister of Health Adrian Dix provide updates on COVID-19’s impact on the province.
Smith has also branched into documenting social movements and activism on the ground, capturing moments at the Victoria Black Lives Matter rally and the Peopleless Protests at Centennial Square in Victoria, BC.
Smith is currently the lead music festival, concert, and event photographer for Victoria Buzz.
Here’s our conversation with Smith.
Q: How did you initially get into doing photography, and how are you tied to Victoria, B.C. in particular (in both work capacities and beyond)?
A: As a kid I admired my uncle who ha[d] always been artistic. He would draw with me, play music on guitar for me and he always had a camera. I played the guitar for many years in my teens and 20’s and always loved photography. I wanted to try to incorporate both of them, so I got into concert photography and music festival photography.
I moved to Victoria B.C. in 2011 and met a small crowd of concert photographers and started asking advice on how they did it.
When I moved to the west coast from Ontario, I originally moved to Pender Island. I ended up meeting my (now) wife on a trip over to Victoria and after long distance dating for a year, we had to decide who was moving where. So I moved here for love.
Q: What’s your journey as a professional photographer been like?
A: It’s evolved in a way that I didn’t expect.
After getting so involved with concert photography for a couple years, I had a feeling that it was holding me back. I wanted to learn new skills, meet new people, and photograph pretty sunsets.
I’ve also become pretty passionate about documenting social justice rallies and protests. The thing about concert photography is that it usually stays the same. Just different bands on stage. Same venue, same lights, same people attending.
With photographing protests or rallies, there is always a chance of something unexpected happening (which is exciting in a way); new people attend, people are there and they’re angry and passionate— they want help or change. They are there for a great reason. For me to document their passion feels really special and pure to me. It feels good in my soul because it’s important work.
Q: What specific social justice rallies and events have you been to thus far?
A: I’ve been to almost every “No Pipeline” protest in Victoria since 2015, the youth for Wet’suwet’en Legislature Occupy back in February and March 2020, and the BLM protests.
Q: You’ve also been heavily involved in documenting the provincial health updates held at the Legislature over the past several months since COVID-19 began. How did you get into that work?
A: I am affiliated with a media outlet, [Victoria Buzz]. I’ve been working with [them] since 2014.
Q: What has it been like capturing moments in the press gallery since early May?
A: The atmosphere in the press gallery is pretty chill at the start when everyone is getting ready. Mics set up, sound guy does the sound check, BC government people set up their live stream. Then someone says “two minute warning” out loud. Minister Dix and Dr. Henry walk into the room, and usually, straight to the microphone.
Documenting this has been something really amazing. I’ve been fascinated by all of it. I never would have imagined that I would be in a room photographing a Provincial Health Officer and a Health Minister giv[ing] briefings and be so amazed by it.
Q: What does social distancing look like in the very room where those protocols are being outlined?
A: I know in the beginning they were pretty much on lockdown. They only had their official B.C. government photographer in there.
They got a little bit looser when I started to come and photograph in May. Now with numbers back up, they have tightened up again and everyone in the room [is] wearing masks. Because the room is small, usually people go in and pick their spot then stay there until it’s over.
I would say there are a total of nine people including Dix and Henry.
Q: Is there any advice you would give to students or aspiring photographers who want to do the kind of work you do?
A: My advice to anyone who wants to pursue photography as a profession or semi-profession is to be nice. Always be kind to every person you talk with. Be respectful and know where you are going, who will be there and what to expect.
Check out more of Smith’s work at his website. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.