Sometimes the business of art is business, as local photographer G. Mark Smith has discovered.
"You really have to work to be seen," he said. "Most artists don't work well in the real world. I happen to be left- and right-minded.''
Smith spent most of 1991 entering his photographs of nature and people in a variety of contests, and he has met with success. He earned an Artists in Education grant from the Kansas Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts, and he's been included in the 1991 photography book published by the Center for Photography at Woodstock, N.Y. He also won the American Photo Magazine Career Competition and received recognition in competitions in San Diego, Sioux City, Iowa, Rhinelander, Wisc., Toledo and Yosemite National Park.
DESPITE THE effort he's put in to his career, Smith said he dislikes competition. He avoided it in college, at Kutztown State University in Pennsylvania, and he would prefer to avoid it now. He'll spend as much as eight hours preparing for a competition, making slides from the prints of images he finds particularly striking. But the market demands the effort.
"I made a five-year plan in 1986 to get to the point where I could do art at least half-time,'' he said. "Then I had a 10-year plan to get recognized internationally or nationally if possible. I'm ahead of schedule, and I've found the response to my work in the last half-year gratifying.''
ALONG WITH the competition come sales, which have helped support his career as an art photographer. He said he's sold several prints, including 15 that stem from a series he shot during the civil war in El Salvador during the early 1980s. Generally, Smith's work has a dual nature, he said: art and photojournalism.
"Of those 15, only five I'd call art,'' he said. "All of them were emotional. People seem to like emotion. I espouse emotion.''
In 1989 and 1990, Smith traveled around Eastern Europe, shooting the breakdown of the Berlin Wall and German reunification, among other events. His main series is "Sleeping in the City,'' which portrays homeless people and transients sleeping in public places.
Last year, Smith spent a lot of time in the studio making prints for the competitions and for sale.
BUT HE did get out a few times, including a tour early last fall of the former Soviet Union. The material he gathered on that trip could keep him busy for months. Some of his Russia images recently were displayed at the Lawrence Public Library.
"I was overwhelmed,'' he said. "I like to go to places where history is being made. The people there had the same looks, although a little bit different, as the people I found in El Salvador or New Jersey. You see the look of despair and hope.''
He shot images of people still keeping a vigil outside the Russian White House, where Boris Yeltsin made his stand against the attempted coup in August. He shot portraits of the people now locked in the struggle to survive the collapse of their nation's economy. He even shot a statue of Stalin that had been taken down.
"THIS IS kind of a clever addition to my `Sleeping in the City' series,'' he said.
Smith also will be working with students in the Associated Youth Services Inc. program in Kansas City, Kan. as well as the Martin Luther King Center and the Kaw Valley Arts and Humanities Council as part of his Artists in Education grant. He's preparing a show of photographs he and the students took that will tour northeastern Kansas.
"I tried to keep my shots of them down to a minimum,'' he said. "It's important that they get the idea they can do something creative.''
In the meantime, Smith has several more contests and grants out there waiting for his application. And as before, he approaches the process of becoming an artist with mixed emotions.
"I guess I'm an emerging artist, but that's their term,'' Smith said. "I don't know what it means.''