Kaitlyn Jo Smith is an artist who is currently living in Tucson, Arizona, where she is pursuing her MFA at the University of Arizona. Smith received her BFA at the Columbus College of Art and Design in her home state of Ohio. By gathering and creating artifacts, she tells the Rust Belt’s story through an archeo-anthropological lens. These material artifacts allow Smith to re-imagine the narratives of her own past as she works to combine specific memories with stereotypes, expectations and idealizations of place.
The American Standard factory in Tiffin, Ohio, was shuttered in 2007. Eleven years later, my father and I returned for the first time since his layoff. I examine familial connections to land, generational succession and inherited circumstance by photographing the space. Standard is a collaboration with my father that explores America's recent industrial past; a time of economic stability for middle America in the postwar moment. Through image making, we have become the archeologists of our own histories by excavating and recording the remnants of our working class home.
Why the University of Arizona?
Once I realized that I needed to leave home (Ohio) in order to make honest work about it, I began researching graduate programs west of the Mississippi in search of new cultures, lifestyles and terrain. The moment I visited the University of Arizona, I knew I had found the right fit. Not only is Southern Arizona breathtakingly beautiful, the photo program here is a tight knit family that believes in artistic growth through support and community. These people will be my colleagues and mentors for life and it is a honor to be able to study under them.
How has your experience at your school informed or shaped your work?
While the work I am making now is similar conceptually to what I was creating before coming to grad school, I cannot believe how much it has changed visually since my arrival. The things I am creating and the ways I am speaking about my work have grown considerably. I accredit it to a program that prides itself in being interdisciplinary and a faculty that has pushed me to step outside of my creative comfort zone.
I have been working alongside the professors in Photography as well as our 3D and Extended Media division and the Center for Digital Humanities to gain access to cutting edge technologies such as 3D scanners and printers. My work has become a hybrid between photography and sculpture in a way I find new and exciting. All of this collaboration and cross-pollination between colleges has been possible for me because I am attending a R1: Doctoral University. I am constantly blown away by the opportunities for funding, exposure and access to highly accomplished industry professionals the University of Arizona has provided for me.
What kind of exhibition or arts-related job opportunities exist in the area for current students and recent graduates?
Tucson, Arizona, is a weird little photography hub in the best way possible! We have the Center for Creative Photography (founded by Ansel Adams) just steps away from the art building, photo centered galleries, a wonderful museum and contemporary art spaces, not to mention an incredible photo faculty (Sama Alshaibi, Frank Gohlke, Joseph Labate, Martina Shenal, David Taylor) and the lovely Mary Virginia Swanson. The community of Tucson is incredibly welcoming to students and there are plenty of internship opportunities as well as teaching appointments. I have taught every semester since arriving and am working towards a well rounded teaching portfolio for applications after graduation.
What’s the most memorable piece of advice you've received from a mentor?
What advice do you have for prospective students looking to attend your school?
Be sure to visit. Building personal relationships is just as important as professional relationships here which makes in person meetings invaluable to the application process. This community has welcomed me with open arms since day one (long before I was officially accepted into the program) and I accredit much of that on my ability to visit the school before applying.
Where can we keep up with your photo department online?