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Press Play – Craig Smith Dow

September 20, 2017

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I remember taking my first photograph. Not the precise date but the event was permanently etched in that place where etchings go to await recall.

I remember my dad’s silver and black Kodak Instamatic, looking through the viewfinder and seeing the shapes that were my family. Instinctually, I guess, I knew those shapes needed to be rearranged.

With the barrage of “hurry ups” from the shapes directed at an eight- or nine-year-old who was quite likely taking way too long, I pressed the shutter. I’ve never looked for that photograph, don’t think I’ve ever seen it or cared to. It was a disappointing click. A snapshot.

I don’t know if defining moments happen or they’re embellished over time, evolving into the film that now plays back as that memory, but defining it was. Is.

There was a shift in my perception that day. I took a picture and learned I needed to make images. It was the day I was burdened with a perpetual viewfinder.

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through Secondary education in New Brunswick where my exposure to visual art was limited to, well, ZERO. Not one class. (This is to the exclusion of the Jackson Pollock-like images we made in blood during soccer season. I didn’t know who he was then.) Perhaps the choice of remaining in a school with its pretentiously-academic bent was not ideal but awareness sometimes requires time to develop.

Wise enough to realize, if not in fact, that enrollment in university with no direction would be a waste of (list applicable nouns here), I enrolled in a little program called Katimavik. So while other undecideds did the Europe thing, got sucked into the flash of a bit of cash or worked their asses off to afford a future education, I was traveling across the country – living, working and learning with my band of misfits. And my camera.

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through Post-Secondary education – Communication Arts. Specializing in photography, where the emphasis on journalism is prime, resulted in an incredible foundation in the mechanics of the tools, immediacy of the medium and the power of an image.

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declining a year of independent study in photography with the Craft College (NBCCD now) to work as a commercial photographer in Toronto for a decade, and most of another traveling back and forth on contracts.

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In conjunction with the discovery of photography as a creative outlet, serious self-education in art begins. Working in the commercial photography “system” in Toronto was an apprentice’s paradise. It was a land of shared knowledge. Nothing was secret. Any question, none too stupid, of how an image was made was explained with vim. Technique, composition, shaping light and colour – information was freely given and absorbed. Modified, expanded upon and further shared.

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At about year eight in commercial photography, the learning curve was flattening. Digital was coming to town. I worked with the first commercial digital camera (LEAF) testing in the city. Though maligned by many, the future was obvious. The need for in-camera skill would decline proportionally to the advances in digital.

And just look at us now.

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limitations of photography become apparent. Alternative means of expression are explored. It was time to save money (and not buy a house), quit jobs, buy a truck, pack the tent and travel the Blue Highways throughout North America for six months.

Dawn breaks, city-life is busted, and big money has to wait.

As Pretty As It Gets, 2015

As Pretty As It Gets, 2015

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Over 20 years back in New Brunswick, making art full-time. Paint is the dominant medium. Meanwhile: Filling the debt hole with wages while gaining new skills. Post & Beam construction, cabinet-making, set design, prop making, event décor and read my CV at craigsmithdow.com

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So here we are, present day: Three decades of photography and two decades of painting with a variety of exhibitions and private sales. Thin on exposure: 2000 Marion McCain Exhibition, being the weightiest, is 17 years old.

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Having avoided the necessity of self-promotion, grant applications and all the “office shit” my whole career, I was able to focus long enough to apply for an artsnb Career Development Grant.

The success of being awarded this grant afforded me the opportunity to participate in art residencies in Argentina and Brazil this past winter.

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Why Argentina and Brazil? As children, I think there are a myriad of thoughts and ideas that become permanently etched in our minds. For some, the reasons behind the idea are never apparent. Others, like my “Argentina” can be guessed at. I am going to blame Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood and Spaghetti Westerns. Italy should bear its share but I didn’t know then what I know now! It was probably the filming, the deserted landscape, the romance of the ugly wandering life that set its hooks in me.

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Twenty-five years ago, I had John Ford and all those cowboys to blame for my months of wanderings around New Mexico and Arizona. And while I’m laying blame: Ansel Adams had me hiking around with thirty pounds of large-format camera gear, a spot-meter and a suitcase full of film holders.

Hey man, slow down - Residencia Corazón

“Hey man, slow down” at Residencia Corazón in La Plata, Argentina

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All politics aside. I love New Brunswick. I came back. I want to stay. However, some of the best here is also a hindrance to me. Isolation is a yin – yang (thang). Great for working time and space, but a killer when what you make – your style – is so “interesting.”

Some change was needed, a move, something. South America was it. It was an intense two-month work period and extremely productive.

It was the freshness of a new world in an old landscape: The beauty of being immersed in a place where the preservation of arts and culture is no concern. Because it is so intertwined with everyday life it can’t be separated. I said, “All politics aside.” I meant here. But of politics there, I say bluntly, “Now that shit is real.” Fodder.

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So in conclusion, I’ve determined I have to get out more. And I am. Stay tuned.

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Craig Smith Dow
Metaphysical Aesthete

Craig Smith DowCraig Smith Dow, born in Newfoundland and bred in Ontario and New Brunswick, would not say he consciously thought about becoming an artist. However, the need to express the visions in his mind’s eye was something that could not be ignored. After his post-secondary education, he moved to Toronto in 1986 to work as a commercial photographer – even though Craig had no formal training in that particular field of photography. As the industry moved toward the digital age, Craig realized the challenges he enjoyed in his chosen career would be greatly minimized with automation. The magic and imagination of film would be gone, the fragile manipulation of light and angles finished. 

In 1994, a six-month tour of North America re-awakened his love for landscape photography but also illuminated the limitations of that medium. Upon his return to New Brunswick, Craig began his explorations into fine art painting. Through trial and error, self-study and forays into different media, he ultimately settled upon acrylic and oils as being the best to express his vision. Now, 20 years later, Craig has a number of exhibitions under his belt and several pieces – both photographs and paintings – in collections across North America, but is still learning to call himself an artist. He continues to explore the corners of his cranium, and strives to express his mind’s musings to his satisfaction.

You can follow Craig’s work on his website.