in conversation with Smith Durogene

Smith Durogene is a self-taught multidisciplinary artist from Broward county who produces work that reflects walks of life from the entire tri-county South Floridian region. Over his thirteen-year career as a photographer, his primary motivation has been to focus more on creating visuals that appeal to him as opposed to focusing on the technicalities of making them. He believes there should be no guidelines for producing art and that anyone looking to create should simply take the steps to begin. As such he has taken on a nontraditionalist approach to capturing his subjects as he views struggle, pain, and bad days to be just as important as capturing joy and happiness.

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

EA:  Where has this project led you and what did you learn?

SD:  This project has led me on a new self-discovery journey. Learning more about who I am, where I’m from, and the communities disappearing within it. Initially, these were moments to reflect on my life as a whole, and it ended up turning into “Here Today Gone Tomorrow”. Giving me a new sense of appreciation and acceptance of the good & flaws within myself and my surroundings.
South Florida as a whole is a beautiful place, but I think one of the unique attributes that we have is our vast amount of culture, a melting pot of people coming from different walks of life. Unfortunately, today home doesn’t really look or feel like home anymore which is why it became important for me to capture the hidden gems in our inner communities before it’s completely gone.

EA:  There’s more to South Florida than just the beaches, the culture is extremely diverse. How did that mold your upbringing?

SD:  My earliest childhood memory I can remember is watching the sun slowly set and enrich the entire sky into orange flames, I can hear a car alarm going off simultaneously to the ice cream truck music slowly fading to the next street over. Downstairs I see a group of kids arguing about who can beat who in a race and a few others playing basketball with a crate tied to a wooden telephone pole. A pure moment enriched in my memory.
I never fully enjoyed going to my grandparents’ home during the summer, mainly because it felt like an active furnace inside their home.  My late grandpa thought it was better to budget his money instead of wasting unnecessary amounts of electricity, so he would open all the windows and use those big square table fans, instead of cutting on the perfectly fine working air condition unit. I can still feel the bottom of my thighs getting stuck to the plastic couches. What I did love about being there was exploring the enormous mango tree my grandparents had in their backyard. This tree was huge, it would cast a shadow so wide during midday the sun could barely penetrate the ground. Unfortunately, I never got to experience the top mainly because my grandpa had eyes of a hawk. I’m sure it was the absent sounds of my siblings and I running around tormenting each other that probably sparked the question about our whereabouts.  These irreplaceable memories and a few lessons I learned along the way are instilled in me to this day. My environment has molded me to value the diversity and history our city holds. I mentioned earlier I spend a lot of my free time self-reflecting, not only on who I am but my community as well, trying to preserve as much as possible for tomorrow’s future… I truly miss hearing the ice cream truck sound fade away down the street. I miss climbing my grandpa mango tree.

EA:  In the foreword, the environment of Florida is described, where is your favorite place?

SD:  My favorite place would be exploring a new place I have never been to.
South Florida has an immense amount of gems all over, it’s like a treasure hunt, you never know what hidden beauties you’ll come across. There are nights I’ll wake up at 3 AM, get in my car and drive. I’ll go watch the sunrise in an area I’ve never seen it rise before and go catch the sunset in a neighborhood I’ve never been to before. The idea of meeting someone new, learning something new, seeing something new is what drives me. Capturing something so unique and special knowing that tomorrow all this might be gone.

EA:  How have gentrifications in your environment affected you?

SD:  Gentrification in my environment is taking away the unique characteristic that makes this place home. Transforming every day and even faster with climate change being one of the main causes.
Florida’s climate change has a lot to do with our sea levels and how fast they’re rising, which brings up climate gentrification. Climate gentrification is very unique, especially in Miami. The inner cities like Overtown and Little Haiti sit above sea level. While places like South Beach and Brickell which are located closer to the ocean, do not. The cities closer to the ocean are experiencing flooding at an alarming rate and it’s only the beginning with the tide rising by the day. Parts of Miami closer to the ocean will be underwater in the next decade, and big cooperation is taking notice, buying and moving people out of the inner city, rebuilding affordable homes but unaffordable for the people who currently live there. Housing and construction companies are buying out your local mom and pop stores to move in the same franchise that’s 2 miles away, and at what cost? More importantly, at whose cost? Those living in the community or for the tourists and snowbirds that come half of the year? The history and culture of our city are fading away. I believe in change and getting the upgrade our community deserves; I also believe in keeping the culture from the people in the neighborhoods there as well.

EA:  Is there anything that you want the reader to know?

SD:  I think to admire the life and the beauties around it, you must appreciate and love who you are first. For some it is easier said than done, I speak from experience trying to find myself growing up. Taking the time to self-reflect one day at a time will help get you there. That’s how this project came about, not intentionally. It went from taking the time to become a better version of me to exploring and value all the gems my environment has to offer and that may be overlooked all at once. This project is a piece of South Florida true identity, preserving what I can before it’s all gone.

To view more of Smith Durogene’s work please visit their website.