"My brother said three words to me that made all the difference. 'Calendars are disposable.' " With that, an idea to widen project's scope into a book was born. Currently, Smith is shopping around for publishers.
By day, the shooter works in public affairs for the State Department to help pay the bills and finance his photo career. When not working on photography, he enjoys watching movies and cooking.
Talking with Smith, who has the smooth, buttery voice of a late-night radio deejay, you get a a sense that he truly honors these women. Unfortunately, it's been difficult to find women to pose for the project. Many women are too proud, he says, others are just shy. He often finds the women when walking around the city and by placing classified ads on Craigslist. Most of his models have no formal training, and to make them more comfortable, he often photographs at odd hours when there isn't heavy foot traffic.
Smith believes a contributing factor to the strength of his photos is the connection these women have to their heritage and place of origin. For some young women, parents make home villages come alive through stories and anecdotes. For others, home is accessible through visits to Africa and stays with family and friends. Key to how the models carry themselves are these roots.
"If you know where you're from, you have any idea where you are going," says Smith.
If you don't have these roots, your pride is associated more with "what you own and what you do," he adds.
For more information and to see Smith's other projects visit www.vlsphoto.com and check out a profile on Smith this spring in the magazine Global Woman.