Jack Smith ( 1932 – 1989 ) was an American filmmaker, actor, and pioneer of underground cinema. He is generally acclaimed as a founding father of American performance art, and has been critically recognized as a master photographer, though his photographic works are rare and remain largely unknown.
Jack Smith was one of the first proponents of the aesthetics which came to be known as ‘camp’ and ‘trash’, using no-budget means of production (e.g. using discarded color reversal film stock) to create a visual cosmos heavily influenced by Hollywood kitsch, orientalism and with Flaming Creatures created drag culture as it is currently known. Smith was heavily involved with John Vaccaro, founder of The Playhouse of The Ridiculous, whose disregard for conventional theater practice deeply influenced Smith’s ideas about performance art. In turn Vaccaro was deeply influenced by Smith’s aestheics. It was Vaccaro who introduced Smith to glitter and in 1966 and 1967 Smith created costumes for Vaccaro’s Playhouse of The Ridiculous. Smith’s style influenced the film work of Andy Warhol as well as the early work of John Waters, and while all three were part of the 1960s gay arts movement, it is certain that both Vaccaro and Smith refuted the idea that their sexual orientation was responsible for their art.
Smith has also been referenced by artists such as Laurie Anderson, Cindy Sherman and Mike Kelley, filmmakers David Lynch and Matthew Barney, photographer Nan Goldin, musicians John Zorn, Lou Reed and David Byrne, and theatre director Robert Wilson. Theater legend Richard Foreman writes, ‘Jack Smith is the hidden source of practically everything that’s of any interest in the so-called experimental theatre today.’
He also worked as a photographer and founded the Hyperbole Photographic Studio in New York. In 1962 he released The Beautiful Book, a collection of pictures of New York artists, which has recently been re-released by Granary Books.
After his last film, No President (1967), Smith created performance and experimental theatre work until his death on September 25, 1989 from AIDS-related pneumonia.
In this picture, Smith is acting in the Warhol’s film “Camp”; he is the one with the black sunglasses.