Street photographer Gary Smith travels to some of the most far-flung places on the globe, discovering danger with every step
Growing up in a farm town in Pennsylvania, Gary Smith found his understanding of the world to be quite small. But he envisioned using his photography to find the largest gathering places around the world.
“I graduated with 159 other white people. I didn’t know anybody; all I knew were white country kids,” Smith said. “I went out in the world, and I’m not afraid of anyone now. I go to central Africa for three weeks; Goma [a city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] is the worst place in the world. I embedded myself for three weeks, and nobody does that.”
Smith documents that three-week excursion in his latest book, “Goma: The Poetry of Everyday Life on the Streets of the Most Miserable Place on Earth.”
The title of the book stems from the history of Goma, a city that Smith described as a place of misery with about 5.4 million deaths from its war in 1994, the largest amount of war deaths since World War II.
Smith’s desire to find and capture the story, regardless of the environment, continued since his graduation from the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications in 1984 and beyond. He has traveled to more than 75 countries and has photographed everything from the wars in the Middle East to drug cartels in South America.
Smith described his days on the Hill as being filled with projects with the University Daily Kansan, mentoring by former J-School educator Rick Musser, and exploring different countries where he found his niche in photographing some of the most dangerous arenas of journalism.
“I used the journalism school to get access to the wars in El Salvador,” Smith said. “Nobody else looked for the school liked this. I spent three months down there in El Salvador, scrambling my brain for one and seeing the worst things a human being could possibly see.”
Smith is a pioneer in “street photography,” and his images document the hustle and bustle in some of the most far-flung places on Earth. Smith’s next project will showcase photographs from his more dangerous experiences in his seventh book, “Travel Logging the Dark Side.” The book will have about 300 pages of writing and 200 pages of Smith’s best photos from his experiences photographing wars, slums and natural disasters.
With all of the traveling and adventures in his career, Smith lives in Lawrence and still finds solace in KU, a place he calls home.
“I think the KU campus – aside from being my backyard – isn’t just smart, it’s beautiful, too,” Smith said. “The greatest honors I’ve ever received in my life have come from right here at my KU home on the hill, not those I’ve garnered in those other many far-flung places I’ve traveled to and worked in.”
–– Nashia Baker is a senior from Lansing, Kansas, studying news and information.