Story 04: Donavon Smallwood

What is your backstory?

My name is Donavon Smallwood. I’m a 26 year old photographer born and raised in Harlem, NYC. I grew up wanting to become an Anthropologist until I took a photo class in my 3rd year of high school and realized photography and anthropology had the potential to be extremely close in form. I ended up studying comparative literature and documentary film in college and went on from there.


What camera gear/editing setup do you use?

I have a variety of cameras I use, these days I mostly stick to a Pentax 67 or Canon 5D depending on what it is, typically film for people and digital for everything else… though I don’t stick to this too often. For editing I just use photoshop or lightroom, nothing too fancy.


How do you achieve the look of your photographs and could you take us through the process?

Well a technical answer would be, in regard to my most recent B&W film work, that photograph on tri-x and develop at home in my bathroom with a combination of diluted hc-110 and rodinal, then I either print or just scan the negatives and mess with them a bit until I get something I like, if at all.


Could you tell us the backstory of some of your photographs?

Most of my non-fashion portraits come about the same way, I see someone interesting out in the world or online and I ask if I can photograph them, set up a time and place and shoot for 10-15 minutes. One roll, done. Most of my images and projects come from an interest in a specific subject or idea and then i shoot based on that and slowly focus on what becomes interesting. im always shooting and working on a few things at a time, with a bunch of projects in various stages of completion. my latest project, Languor, came from thinking about the amount of time i’ve spent in Central Park and connecting that with the history I learned about the park and Seneca Village. With those in mind I just went to work. The project will be published as a book later this year with a great publisher so keep an eye out.


What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?

Advice is tough, i’m still super young and learning new stuff every other day but the advice I get and what seems to be working for me is just to keep at it. I dont really believe in the whole inspiration or motivation thing, just go out and work on something always. Good art is a deep engagement with the tradition, everything else is advertising for a product, so along with continuous work you have to humble yourself before the masters and look at/absorb all the great art you can. It’s an education that requires cultivation and appreciation for those who are better and the forms that come with that… in my opinion.


Donavon Smallwood


Story 05: Nick Meyer


Story 03: Robert Darch