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Light, Shade and Shadow
inspiration for the perfect photograph...
moderndallas.net interviews
Charles Davis Smith, AIA
by Robert Diago

I was introduced to Charles Davis Smith, AIA while he was shooting several
of the houses for the AIA Tour of Homes. I watched as he scouted a
location, and was immediately impressed. He has amazing instinct.
I jumped at moderndallas’ offer to interview him.
RMD: Chuck. I can call you Chuck…?
CDS: Most do.

RMD: What’s your earliest career-related memory?
CDS: I wanted to be an architect since I was 6 or 7. I loved to draw, like my mother. She
taught me the basics; perspective, drawing, sketching… I never considered anything
else. Photography didn’t enter the picture until I had to take a black and white
photography class in Architecture School.  
RMD: And today, if not photography…?
CDS: I’d be either a Powerball Winner or an out of work Architect

RMD: Any hobbies?
CDS: I don’t own one, but I consider Classic Muscle Cars a hobby. I’m a member
of a car club. I have a model and year in mind, just not the means, yet!  

RMD: Cool. Tell me something else, something random.
CDS: I can spin almost anything on my fingers; books, plates, trays, basketballs,…
even a golf club.
RMD: Photography, what's tough about it?  
CDS: The Texas heat, traveling to out of town photoshoots with 600+ pounds of
gear and the sun constantly sets faster than I would like.

RMD: There’s not much you can do about those.
CDS: I keep dry shirts handy, and return home to cool off between shoots. When
I must fly, the equipment goes FedEX. And no, nothing I can do about the sun setting.

RMD: So what comes easiest?
CDS: Seeing a project and immediately knowing the best angles, how a building will
look through a specific lens and quickly determining the best time of day to shoot.
RMD: Any honors your particularly proud of?
CDS: I graduated with honors and received several awards as a design student.
More importantly, it’s always rewarding to see a client’s project get recognition,
win design awards or get published. Though I had nothing to do with the design,
the client put their faith in my representation of their work.

RMD: Does that happen often?
CDS: [Smiles, apprehensively]  Client awards are somewhere between 125 and
150. I quit counting.

RMD: Who’s had the greatest influence on your career?
CDS: First, my late mother. She said I could do and be anything. It was her
encouragement that instilled these qualities in me. There are too many others
to mention. The biggest influence from a photographer standpoint is Ezra Stoller.
The Godfather of architectural photography, his career spanned 60+ years.
He did for Architecture, what Ansel Adams did for the National Parks
RMD: What fresh approach do you bring to your work?
CDS: I was trained and worked for several years as an architect and have had
no formal training as a photographer. Sounds a bit crazy for an approach to
photography. My architectural clients appreciate the fact that I can understand
the design of their buildings.

RMD: Is there equipment you cannot live without?
CDS: A digital camera, computer and Photoshop.

As a former art director I know my way around those. We get to talking about digital
photography and retouching. Working in Photoshop is a labor of love for both of us
and he confesses he’s a bit of a perfectionist and is known to spend too much time
on the back end of a project. “Shooting digital is like learning photography all over again.”

It seems some photographers can’t make the transition to digital, and those who
do must keep up with technology. Talk of merging software and bracketing shots might
make your eyes glaze over, but flipping through his portfolio it’s obvious his abilities here
make the difference between an ordinary pic and ‘the money shot’.
RMD: What’s so special about modern architecture?
CDS: When done correctly it’s an absolute pleasure to photograph. There are no
bad angles. Given the right light levels, time of day and optimum sunlight, my work
looks easy. Modern architecture, when proportioned and done well is timeless and
appears effortless. Truth is it’s rather difficult to achieve and there are only a select
few architects in Dallas that are real masters.

RMD: You sound inspired. What else inspires you?
CDS: Light, Shade and Shadow. They can turn a two dimensional photograph into
a three dimensional image.

RMD: What do you have in the works?
CDS: Homes are always ongoing projects. Many clients prefer to shoot throughout
the year to accommodate changing sunlight and landscape. I just completed an
Emergency Care facility in Frisco. That was a departure, design wise. I also just
finished another Penthouse in One Arts Plaza.
RMD: Tell me a little about One Arts Plaza.
CDS: The three main players in the design and development were all 10+-year clients.
They needed photos quickly to market Dallas’ newest mid-rise. Since I shot numerous
projects for them, there was a high level of comfort. We were able to document much
of the complex from retail spaces, offices, and the condos and penthouses. Our biggest
challenge was photographing around all the construction in the Arts District. One Arts
was completed nearly 18 months ahead of the Wyly and Winspear.

RMD: What are you passionate about?
CDS: Photography. Family. Photography began as a hobby and the passion was deep
rooted and has never diminished. I love spending time with my family, watching my
5 year old. I am the happiest at home, or on vacation away from phones. We have
three acres in SW Dallas County, I enjoy working on the house and yard.
RMD: What is your greatest extravagance?
CDS: Nothing at the moment. Ask me when I win the Power Ball!

RMD: Ok, you know the drill, dinner, four people, one night...
CDS: My parents and grandparents. I know, not sexy. My grandparents passed years
ago, as did my mother. My father had just a few visits with my daughter before he
recently passed. I’d like them all to meet my wife and have my 5-year-old see her
grandparents and great grandparents.

RMD: Lastly, what’s your favorite sandwich?
CDS: Grilled Cheese. I’m not eating much meat these days.
Charles Davis Smith, AIA provides
photography services to Architects, Interior
Designers, Landscape Architects, General
Contractors, and Real Estate Brokers. Learn
more at

Robert Mateo Diago is an artist, designer,
writer and all-around creative type.

All images ©2009 CDS. Reproduction without
permission strictly prohibited
Vanguard Way,  Architect; Morrison Seifert Murphy
Galveston Beach House, Architect; Douglas Oliver,
Berkshire, Morrison Seifert Murphy
Lake Forest, Architect; Max Levy, FAIA
One Arts Plaza, Morrison Seifert Murphy, Billingsley
Development Company, Corgan Associates.
Dallas Police Memorial-02, Oglesby-Greene
Architecture, Edward Baum, FAIA. John
Maruszazak, AIA
International Business Park, Morrison Seifert
Murphy, Billingsley Development Company
Welch, Architect- Frank Welch and Associates

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