All images © Gene Smirnov
“Drinking is deep in the culture of Philadelphia. It’s a city with history on every level. Stories are everywhere, but they always end up at the bars late at night. With this project I wanted to capture the current state of dive bars and what that means to the regulars going there.”
ASMP: Can you provide some background on your winning photo?
Gene Smirnov: In 2015 I received an assignment to photograph a handful of dive bars for Philadelphia Magazine. I worked with design director Jamie Leary and photo editor Claudia Gavin. It was exciting to see my photos published across a number of spreads with minimal text, very much like a gallery show. Two years later I realized that I was really drawn to this project and decided to take it upon myself to pursue a deeper look into it with a renewed intent and desire to have a solid body of work. I ended up showcasing the final project at Gravy Studio in Philadelphia.
ASMP: What type of setting inspires you the most?
GS: I enjoyed a setting with a character that shows grit and perseverance.
ASMP: Is there anything unique about your style or approach?
GS: The style of this project is a fine balance between photojournalism and editorial, which is a parallel to my personal and professional styles.
ASMP: Was there anything unique about the type of lighting you used for this image or series?
GS: Occasionally I’d use a compact portable LED light to illuminate patrons and the setting, but my goal was to keep it as is.
ASMP: How long have you been shooting this type of photography?
GS: Editorial portraiture is my current specialty, but I’ve been shooting in photo journalistic style on and off my entire career, about 15 years.
ASMP: What other photographers’ or artists’ work inspires you?
GS: I like many classic photographers, but the current ones who still produce work are Roger Ballen, Dan Winters, Frank Ockenfels, Erwin Olaf, Nadav Kander and number of others.
ASMP: When did you join ASMP and what do you find most valuable about your membership?
GS: I’ve been a member since April 2013. I enjoy the network of photographers, mentors and assistants. I mostly enjoyed webinars and educational opportunities. I’ve often used ASMP as a resource to find assistants and help when I worked out of state.
ASMP: What is the more important relationship you’ve formed through your ASMP membership?
GS: There are several photographers I’ve became close friends with through membership, I definitely cherish that.
ASMP: What kind of gear do you use?
GS: Currently I use Sony mirrorless system and Profoto strobes, among many other tools.
ASMP: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started taking photos?
GS: Show the kind of work you want to shoot and push your work out there constantly. It’s always a salmon season and we’re swimming upstream.
ASMP: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about you and/or your work?
GS: I was born in Russia and initially I was going to be a lawyer. Through being a graphic designer and art director I slowly found my passion in photography.