+ By Desiree Smith-Daughety + Photos by Christian Smooth
Christian Smooth—that’s really his name. When asked about it, he says, “Smooth—it’s like hitting the lottery and being hit with a curse. Given my line of work, people think Smooth is my stage name.”
Smooth is a storyteller who uses various means to convey his stories, including photography, portraiture, videography, screenwriting, and filmmaking. He wanted to be a writer before falling into videography and photography. “Writing and storytelling are my first loves. When I’m composing my shots, I always think about the story I’m trying to tell before I press my shutter,” he says.
He recalls that while growing up, he read a lot of comics, which inspired his love of writing and desire to create that type of compelling narrative. “Runaways, by Brian K. Vaughan, is what made me want to be a writer,” he says. Smooth found that action and adventure in the comics’ story lines immerse the reader into worlds, and that drew him in, again and again. A Marvel fan, he liked X-Men and Spider-Man. Long before Third Eye Comics came to Annapolis, the first comic book store he visited was Twilite Zone Comics in Glen Burnie; his mother would make the drive from Annapolis so that he could select his comic book haul. His other, more local option was Borders Bookstore when it was still in business at the Annapolis Mall.
After graduating from Annapolis High School, Smooth attended Morgan State University and earned his bachelor’s degree in screenwriting. He credits his mother buying him a Canon T3i DSLR camera for his entry into the realm of photography. He was already involved in videography, but upon receiving the camera, he took pictures just to relax and have fun.
Over time, photography morphed into something more for Smooth. It became a more serious endeavor when he began attending Malcolm McFadden’s open mic event at ArtFarm Studios. He took photos of the performers, doing it for love of the craft. He considers his portrait work to be mostly photodocumentary style because he analyzes a scene from a photojournalist’s perspective. Attending local events, such as the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in 2020, he took photos, for himself, to capture historical moments that were happening locally. After posting them on his social media accounts, Donna Cole, a Facebook friend, invited him to be interviewed on her radio show, 1430 Connection, on WNAV. He credits Cole with connecting him with the Maryland State Archives, where those photos are now stored.
Smooth is drawn to where the action is happening. “I like to go where the fire is and take pictures. It makes me feel alive. A perfect example is when I covered a riot at night in Washington, DC, at the height of the 2020 BLM protests. I was tear-gassed and almost trampled while I was taking pictures and recording live. There’s something about capturing history as it unfolds in front of you,” he says. Gathering inspiration from what’s going on around him at the time invigorates his creative flow. “I find beauty in the eccentricities of life. What some may find bizarre and don’t understand inspires me to create,” he explains.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Smooth has conducted virtual photo shoots for a few hundred people over FaceTime, and he wants to put those into a published book to capture how people have been living during the pandemic. Documenting the pandemic is a long-term project, subject to extension based on the fluidity of the situation.
Smooth recently finished shooting a film and has been investigating film festivals to submit the work for consideration. He has been in festivals before, earlier in his career, including in North and South America. There is a line-up of films he wants to produce—first writing the script, then handling the directing and editing of the film—and a team that helps him shoot the films. A recent project demonstrates the hiccups with which a filmmaker must contend: He wrote the script in April 2021, but production didn’t begin until the end of November 2021. Then the planned two-day shoot didn’t happen. They finished shooting in December, and then it took a month and a half to edit because, during that time, Smooth got sick with COVID-19. While he would like the opportunity to work for a studio, he also relishes being independent and having control over his projects; “You are the studio head as an independent filmmaker,” he says.
When working on a film, he takes inspiration as it comes. For one film, it was listening to people’s stories and how they’re living. He took the types of scenarios people were going through and put them into outcomes. For example, a father and son who are living together and are always at odds must cope when the father gets COVID-19 and the son has to step up to take care of him. Additionally, Smooth confesses, “My filmmaking is highly influenced by conspiracy theories. I view them as mythology for the modern age.”
His visual work is compelling and demonstrates wide artistic range, whether it’s the comedy, horror, and drama that a relationship may endure as portrayed in a short film, the gritty realism of nighttime protests captured in photographs, or the creatively composed portraitures of subjects that Smooth has evidently and skillfully made comfortable and vulnerable enough to relax and play before his lens.
Smooth’s dream is to have his own studio space where he can create his films, take photos, and devote himself to all his creative endeavors. His vision is to produce a great body of work. When he creates something, he wants it to be thought provoking. The themes may be serious or comedic, though lately he has been drawn to comedy. “I want my ‘art’ to not only be thought- provoking but also to be uplifting,” he says. “There’s so much darkness and negativity in the world, nowadays. If I can make someone smile, then what I do is worth it. True positivity is becoming rare.”
From December 2020 to early February 2021, he briefly created a little studio using a storage unit for people to come by and he could photograph them. Ultimately, management found out and kicked him out, citing that businesses weren’t allowed at the storage facility.
While Smooth was originally drawn to videography, he has become jaded with it. His main passion today is his filmmaking, because he feels he’s better able to tell a story through it. “I view myself as a filmmaker and not a videographer. Videographers press the record button and capture highlights. Filmmakers craft stories that evoke feelings,” he explains.
And with photography, he’s still able to relax and feel no pressure. █
For more information, visit SmoothHouseProductions.com or follow @smoozus on Instagram.