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Creativity with a Cause

From the middle of the ocean to the Middle East, Jono Smit's creative skills are helping break down barriers and change perceptions.

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Jono Smit’s photographic philosophy is simple.

"Keep taking photos until you don’t enjoy taking photos anymore."

In what’s been an indescribably turbulent year for all within the creative industry, Smit’s now seeking enjoyment and finding a whole different meaning to his mantra far from the comforts of home. 

Earlier this year, The Smits teamed up with the Frontier Alliance International organisation for the second time, registered nurse Annie providing medical attention and aid to those desperately in need, with Jono using his creative skillset to help highlight the organisation’s plight. 

“There's a lot of conflict here. Iran and Turkey wreaking havoc everywhere. 

Bombs would be the main difference I’d say, and there are hardly any jobs going. COVID-19 has really had a huge impact on normal life here.”

Just days before packing his bags for a one-way ticket to a warzone, the Canterbury local was in far more familiar surrounds - wading in the winter waters of Christchurch’s Sumner Beach, capturing the scenes of New Zealand’s premier longboard surfing competition, the Single Fin Mingle. 

“I grew up taking photos of my Dad surfing on his old film camera, so I guess that’s where it all began… Shooting out of focus frames for the old man, and seeing the disappointment on his face when he got the film back,” Smit recounts jokingly.

Single Fin Mingle competition. Photo: Jono Smit.

From the middle of the ocean to the Middle East, the idea of calling Iraq home was always part of the Smit’s plan after a life-changing three-month stint in 2017.

“It was dangerous and scary, but we were able to assist and most of all just love the people who were living there. We left knowing in our hearts that we needed to tidy up New Zealand life so that we could come back long-term.”

Photo: Jono Smit.

The couple left knowing there were more people they could help, more smiles to put on the faces of the locals. These were the faces Smit wanted to capture. The essence of pure happiness on one hand and on the other, the grim and heart-breaking scenes of those plagued by famine or caught in the firing line of warfare. Upon returning home in 2017, Smit hosted an exhibition with his captivating stills, gaining the spine-tingling and reality sinking responses he had hoped for. 

Photo: Jono Smit.

“The most encouraging part was that it broke some hearts. It’s easy to get a hard heart these days, so it was nice to see some tears and some confused/dazed faces around, mostly wondering why they paid money to see an A0 size image of an amputated foot on a table.

“It all ties in, us being in the East, the Syrian refugee families that settled in New Zealand and the mosque shootings in Christchurch. I think Middle Eastern and Muslim people are now welcomed and loved in New Zealand because of recent events, which is beautiful.”

Photo: Jono Smit.

And while an exhibition of the second edition of their travels in Iraq will certainly go ahead upon return to their homeland, Smit has a mission at hand - one he hopes he can continue to accomplish behind the lens, and through his service with the FAI.

“If positive change is an outcome back home, that’s great. I think more than, anything it’s great to show the individual people of the Middle East. We can too easily group the whole of the Middle East into the terrorist bracket really fast back home, so if I can be a tiny part in breaking that stereotype, that’d be lovely.” 

Photo: Jono Smit.

The stark scenery on offer provides plenty of artistic opportunities - just as the lush and vibrant landscape does here. But for 30-year-old Smit, it’s what’s in front of those backdrops that counts.

“People would be my favourite genre. Surf photos have always been a lot of fun, and there’s so much beauty in and around New Zealand, but eventually, it didn’t have enough purpose for me personally. As Annie says when I show her a new surf image I just took; ‘it just looks like another wave to me!’”

Photo: Jono Smit.

Smit will call Iraq home for at least the next year, continuing to use his camera to capture, to educate and to learn more about life from those affected by constant conflicts.

“I hope it encourages me to take less photos, to treat my digital camera more like a film camera where every image you create is well thought out and a composed piece of art. Create rather than spray and pray.”

Jono and Annie Smit.

Written by

George Berry

1 Dec 2020

George Berry is a 22-year old Freelance Journalist and Musician.