52 Smiles

Look at me! I’m #50 in the project! Photo courtesy of (c) Ben Bowens Photography

Yiddish phrase:

Lichticheh punim. It literally means a big, happy face that is lit up, from smiling!

Those of you who read this space, know how I feel about smiling. I am still in the midst of my experiment (with very good results) in The Chaos of the Smile Theory. Apparently, photographer Ben Bowens felt similarly and set out on a mission to capture 52 Smiles in 2017.

While he was doing his thing, I did a little of my thing, an interview. Here it is:

1. How old were you when you first picked up a camera? I can remember playing with my family’s Polaroid camera when I was very little, maybe 6 or 7. I’ve always been interested in art and photography and my parents were good about letting me explore with paint and drawing, etc. I got my first 35 mm camera when I was in college and used it for my fundamentals of photography class where I learned about the magic and frustration of the dark room. In addition to that camera, all throughout college, I always had a digital camera on me just in case I wanted to take a quick picture. The same is true now, only my camera costs way more and it’s usually accompanied by two additional lenses, a flash, a cleaning kit and extra batteries!
2. What are some of your favorite things to photograph? I love to photograph people in their element. I’m a very hands-off photographer when I do portrait sessions. I like to settle on a location and let my subjects explore it on their own. Kids are great at being authentically expressive in new places. They wander around, pick things up, taste things, etc. I love to get photos of those little moments and I think most parents appreciate it, too.
3. How did 52 Smiles come about? 52 Smiles was a project I thought about during 2016. The presidential election was super depressing and it seemed like every week a major figure from pop culture died (We lost Princess Leia and Prince!). I felt a lot of negative vibes during 2016 and I just wanted a reason to smile again. I figured if I could take a picture of someone different smiling and share it every week (52 weeks in a year, 52 smiles, you get it) I would be doing my part to make 2017 a little bit brighter.
4. What/Who inspires/fascinates you? Why? I draw a lot of inspiration from Instagram. People I don’t even know, but whose accounts I follow and marvel at on a daily basis. There are some really talented photographers in the city of Philadelphia and around the world. I just try to emulate the techniques or visit the locations they’ve been and try to match some of their work or take photos to make something my own. 
5. Five years from now, you’ll be…. Possibly in another city, doing another job, surrounded by different people. Who knows! Looking back to the last 5 years, I don’t think I could’ve predicted that I’d be handling communications for the ACLU of Pennsylvania and running my own photography business. I have some ideas, but I guess you’ll just have to stay tuned and see where it all goes.
6. Can you share with us a few of your favorite/most memorable photos? Maybe, a little blurb too?
My girlfriend standing on the beach in Wildwood holding her sandals during sunset. It doesn’t get much better than that. Everything about this picture is my favorite. The lighting, the reflection, the subject. Everything.
I’ve heard and read that Cairns represent many different things to different cultures. They can represent love, or be used to mark the spot where a loved one died, but for me they represent balance. I took this picture during a getaway in Martha’s Vineyard where I was desperately trying to re-balance my life. I think this picture sums up that journey and that time in my life.
I often see things I want to photograph when I’m driving or don’t have my camera and the image will stick with me. Every morning during my commute up I-95 I used to see this smokestack blowing god knows what into the atmosphere from one of the many factories that dot the Philadelphia landscape and just in front of it a tree stood defiant to the toxins. I didn’t quite capture the image from my mind (mainly because that would require me to have a tripod on the middle of a 4-lane highway), but this was the first time that I went out of my way to track down a photograph and I was very proud of myself for following the idea.
It was my 33rd birthday and we hiked around Yosemite. Everyone was clamoring to take the iconic sunset photos of half-dome at glacier point and this girl just walked out beyond the barrier and sat on the edge of the cliff. She looked so peaceful and unfazed by the true majesty laid out before her.
7. With 2017 wrapping up, and 52 smiles coming to an end, what’s next for Ben Bowens? My girlfriend suggested that I take pictures of doors around Philadelphia. I think I might give that a go. It’s probably easier to convince a door to take pictures than my camera-shy coworkers.
8. What’s more important, your equipment, or your eye to the world? I think both go hand in hand. Without one, the other is useless. I can’t count the number of times I’ve said “I wish I had my camera” because I saw something I wanted to capture.
9. Where is home? Home is where the heart is. My heart is currently in Philadelphia.
10. Did you study photography? I took fundamentals of photography class my freshman year of college. It was all black and white and required 35mm film. I also took fundamentals of digital photography class in 2010 at Project Basho it was also all black and white, but all digital.
11. How important is Photoshop to your final images? Photoshop is essential to my work. I shoot in RAW and use the program to process my photos. I think “Photoshop” has a negative connotation associated with it when it comes to photography because it implies that an image has been “doctored” or altered in some way, but I think of it as the darkroom for digital photography (see also: Adobe Lightroom). Photographers in darkrooms are constantly altering their photos with burning and dodging, over-exposing or under-exposing techniques. The digital programs of today are basically streamlining that process.
12. Lastly, if you had one wish? It would be to somehow quit my job, risk-free, and travel the world photographing any and everything I could find. Got $1 million laying around I can borrow??? 🙂
Your contact info: Ben Bowens, Instagram @benbowensphoto, benbowens.com, info@benbowens.com, 267-838-0620
So my friends, may you all end this year and start the new one with your very own, lichticheh punim!

4 thoughts on “52 Smiles

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