Louann Smith was a lawyer and a gardener before she became a photographer. She credits both early pursuits — and a castoff camera — for leading her into photography.
"I have to give credit to my husband for bringing photography to me," she says. "My creative outlet was strictly my garden, which is a wonderful creative outlet to have. You can experiment with color and form and even things like rhythm in your garden. That was what I did."
Before a trip to Africa by the couple in 2011, Richard Smith upgraded to "a really nice DSLR camera and got really into photography," says his wife. "He gave me the old camera [a Fuji X-T2] and said, 'Why don't you take pictures of your flowers?' I started doing that, and I loved it.
"I was practicing law and using the left side of my brain, the analytical, reasoning, language side of my brain. When I take photographs, the right brain gets to be in charge, the nonverbal, visual part of my brain. It's been a thrill to do this."
Smith has a show of 20 to 25 of her floral images, "Fotographia Florilegia," opening Friday at Exum Gallery and continuing through Nov. 3.
If you go
* What: Opening reception for Louann Smith’s “Fotographia Florilegia”
* When: 5-7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18 (regular hours are 8:30-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday)
* Where: Exum Gallery, inside St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 305 W. Seventh St.
* Phone: 423-266-8195
* Online: www.louannsmithphotography.com
She worked with brothers Mark and Mitch Lakey at Art Warehouse to determine which of her florals would best translate from digital image to print and how each image should be sized and presented.
"I can't tell you what it felt like to see my work in print instead of just on a computer screen," she says. "It was very fulfilling."
All have been printed on white aluminum, a medium she loves "because the image fills the entire space — no mat or frame to distract from my subject."
The largest image, at 36 by 36 inches, is a purple passion flower, spotted on a field trip to Trion, Georgia, with a group from the Photographic Society of Chattanooga. While the others' lenses were focused on an approaching steam train, she recalls, "I was down in a ditch with my camera pointed at that flower."
Smith says it's a principle that plays out whenever she and her husband are out pursuing their shared hobby.
"He's always looking out at the horizon and taking pictures like that," she says. "I'm always focusing down on small objects."
The final image depicts the passion flower on a black background, drawing attention to the bloom's complex circular form and concentric circles, rather than the weeds that once surrounded it. "The blades of grass were just distracting," Smith says.
In addition to curating exhibitions for the Exum Gallery, Curt Hodge is co-owner of Flowers by Gil & Curt on Tremont Street. Louann Smith believes she may have been the shop’s first customer and can certainly make the case as one of the best regular customers. “Every week since they opened their doors, I would order a bouquet of flowers to be delivered to my office, just a small bouquet that I would put in my own vase,” says Smith. “Every Monday morning, I would look forward to having those flowers. They charged me $10 for that first bouquet. Thirty-five years later, they charged me $10 for the last bouquet” (before her retirement from law firm Baker Donelson).
The post-processing work she does on her computer is "as important as the actual taking of the photograph," she says. She uses Lightroom and Photoshop software to remove the extraneous details.
"I really think that's what all good [art] photographers are trying to do: Tell the viewer, 'I want you to look at this particular thing,'" she says.
She cites an Ansel Adams quote in which the famous photographer likens photography to classical music. "The negative is the score, and developing the negative is the performance," she paraphrases. "It transforms a sort of ordinary image into a work of art."
Gallery curator Curt Hodge, co-owner of Flowers by Gil & Curt, says he has known Smith for years and once took "an uninvited stroll through the edge of her garden" while delivering flowers to her neighbor.
When he saw some of her images posted online, "I was blown away," he says. "She has a passion for the beauty of nature."
Smith says she's thrilled to be asked to do the show. "One of my great joys is finding art at this time of my life," she says. "I am 63, and my husband is 67. In our old age, we have become artists."
Five fast facts about Louann Smith
* She retired 18 months ago from Baker Donelson after a 35-year law career, specializing in affordable housing development projects at the end of her career. Her husband, Richard Smith, who retired from law firm Robinson, Smith and Wells, says Louann was chosen by the faculty as Outstanding Graduate of their class (1983) at the University of Tennessee. Although she did no ligitation in her practice, in law school she was on a moot court team that won a national championship, he says.
* Before she went to law school, she taught high school English and Latin in Hamilton County. “Sometimes I make up Latin names for [the titles of] the flowers I shoot,” she says. “Most people don’t know they’re fake.”
* She is an avid gardener. “I have literally dug up my entire yard and turned it into a garden over the years. … There’s just a little grass path around the beds now,” she says.
* She has two favorite times of day for photographing in the garden. “One is in the morning, maybe 9 or 10 o’clock, and the other is in the afternoon, close to sunset [when] the angle of the light is particularly flattering to the plants … . If the sun is really, really bright, it’s hard to take a good picture of a plant,” she says.
* She titled her show “Fotografia Florilegia” as a tribute to one of her inspirations, Basilius Besler. He was an Austrian apothecary and amateur botanist who in 1613 produced “Florilegium: The Book of Plants,” a series of 367 copperplate engravings to capture the diversity of the palatial gardens of the German prince who employed him.
Contact Lisa Denton at email@example.com or 423-757-6281.