Johannesburg born photographer Sydelle Willow Smith’s practice is informed by a personal search for identity guiding what her lens captures. The documentarian’s roots trace back to Lithuania. A graduate of Social Anthropology, this social scientific view informs the stories that she depicts guiding her viewer to more universal truths. Sydelle is also a winner of the Gisele Wulfsohn Mentorship.
Her plunge into the photographic medium happened organically as her father was a darkroom technician in the advertising industry building her her own darkroom when she was sixteen. Soon after, she started pursuing the medium through taking classes with The Market Photo Workshop–here photography became a part of who she was. “The way it allowed me to talk to strangers, walk the streets searching for photographic moments, learning about light, learning about approach. I was transfixed by the darkroom, watching the images appear in the developer chemical,” she tells Huck. Her love is greatly influenced by the way in which a photography recreates or shaped memory. In her personal projects she seeks out, “A personal interest, an unrelenting interest, a feeling of wanting to communicate something from my particular perspective.”
Sharing with Huck she states, “Soft Walls became a project I wanted to continue as I often feel like an outsider or immigrant in South Africa – the country of my birth. Asked where am I really from? Originally, Lithuania I guess – my great grandparents were born there…. but I do not feel a visceral connection to that geography. Also, Soft Walls became what it is out of studying concepts of identity and nationality in Anthropology and I was intrigued by how I could artistically express the academic theory I had engaged with… and how people were living beyond xenophobia and prejudice. For my next project I am beginning to feel more comfortable with the idea of turning the lens back on myself engaging with my own familiar histories in someway that I haven’t quite figured out yet.”