I first met Smoke Sister Sophie when she was working as a product photographer at Sneaker Politics, and quickly started bounced around the idea of a photo shoot for Smoke. I love the way her style has a sun-faded, organic look that leans heavy on natural light and feel. I am so thrilled with the campaign she recently shot, and have been showcasing those images on our social media all month. It has been amazing to watch Sophie step out on her own to launch her freelance practice. Her creative growth has been super inspiring to watch, and it was fun to peel back the curtain on her process. This woman is both wise and talented beyond her years--Enjoy!*
*This interview has been edited and condensed.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, your work, and where we can find you?
I am a visual artist, I work in mostly the medium of photography, but I also paint, and I also draw, which I’ve actually been doing a bit longer than photography. My work varies. I’ve always drawn very photorealistic stuff, but I’ve started gravitating more away from what is real to what is enjoyable and finding enjoyment in the process of creating. A lot of my photography work, as of now, is wedding work, and editorial work. I also really love working with fashion photography, awesome stylists, cool outfits, and rad locations. I like dark stuff, I love shadow play, so that’s kind of where my work is right now. You can find me at www.sberard.com and Instagram.
Where were you in life ten years ago, and did you ever see yourself where you are now?
Ten years ago I was in high school. I lived in Lawrenceville, Georgia. I was in band (I played) the marimba, I played it for nine years. It was my favorite, I loved it so much. That was the first thing I ever really – I fell in love with drawing first, but I became so passionate about music. I wanted to join the drum corps, and that was just one of my bigger passions, and then I decided to move to Louisiana when I was sixteen, and so that kind of altered where I went in life. But, anyway, no, I did not see myself where I am now. I honestly thought I would be doing music. I didn’t draw at the time, I didn’t paint, I thought I was gonna be a musician, and I didn’t know what a camera was. I mean, I knew what it was, but I didn’t realize it was a career path. It’s super weird to look back now and see that this is what is fueling my income, all of my waking thoughts, even my crazy dreams, are very much so encompassed with photography, and art, so it’s pretty cool. I definitely didn’t see this happening.
Who is the one person you look up to most in life? Why?
I would have to say my best friend, Jasmine. I met her eight years ago at a really tough point in my life. And she was someone who really showed me that love was something that didn’t start with the family, it didn’t have to be from your family. She showed me that love finds you in some of the craziest places in your life, and when you need it the most. Jasmine was there whenever I felt the most isolated in my whole life. She showed me the most gracious love, the most kind love. She was just my best friend through and through, and she still is. She’s without ego, almost, and I admire that so much about her. Man, she just loves really well.
I think that that’s something, above being good at what you do, above anything else it’s how well do you love other people? That’s something that I can wake up every day, and be like, ok, this is how loved I am (because of Jasmine), and be able to share that with other people. She’s so cool, she’s like the polar opposite of me too: she rock climbs, she surfs, she skateboards, and I like sit on the couch and edit photos -- haha!
Where do you derive strength? What gives you the fortitude to keep going when the going gets tough?
I think a lot of my strength came from me growing up. My mom was a single mom growing up, and being a single mom, moving state to state, there are a lot of, I mean, just, having a kid at twenty-three; I’m twenty-four right now, and I honestly can’t imagine bringing a life into this world. But my mom did, and she did it by herself. It was hard for her, and there were disagreements, and it wasn’t always easy. We didn’t talk to each other for about five years. I would say that my relationship with my mother, and the lack of it, and the turbulence of it, and her being like my main support system for all of my life, and then losing that for five years, in a time of my life when I was, you know, eighteen to twenty-four, when I was becoming a young woman myself, without having my mother, was a really hard place for me.
The first year, specifically. That type of isolation really forced me to be okay with myself, and to strive to be everything that I grew up believing I wasn’t. My mom is a very hard-working, strong, independent woman, and I have very much grown up to be so much like her, and now that I have reconciled our differences. I would definitely say that my relationship with my mother is what has made me stronger. She reached out to me two months ago, now. And she said that she wanted to have a relationship with me. It was a really big deal, cause I had wanted it for so long. A mother-daughter bond is so strange, because it’s inescapable, as much as you want it to sometimes be absent, or present, or all of these crazy mixed emotions that you might have with it, at the end of the day, the absence of your mother is a very hard situation to deal with, and to reconcile. Being stubborn, I have found, isn’t a healthy way to deal with it. Forgiving what has been done against you, and forgiving yourself for what you’ve done is more so helpful. We talk on the phone, and we talk about good things, and we share our perspectives a lot more openly, and that has been really healthy. At the end of the day it takes being ready to listen, being ready to receive, being ready to let down your hurt, and your defenses, and just being ready to understand another perspective. And that is something my mom has shown me that has been such a healing tool in our relationship, and it’s something that I’m happy that we can share with each other.
What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced, and how did you overcome that challenge?
One of the biggest challenges I faced was starting my business. It was 2016 that I officially started my LLC, but at the time I was working full-time. I was working with Sneaker Politics (a sneaker boutique), which was a killer job for someone (like me) who didn’t graduate from college. Politics paid me to do a job, it paid me to learn, and what college experience gives you that? The challenge was starting my business while I worked full-time at Politics, and steadily growing in my business, while still putting in sometimes twelve to fourteen hour days at Politics. I would wake up, I would work on my business, I would answer emails, or I would edit, I would work, and I would go home, and I would edit, and I would draw. That was my life. I love to-do lists, cause I am a compulsive, write everything down and check ‘em off. I love checking off my list, it’s the best feeling. That, and not going out. Honestly, I stopped going out when I was, I think, twenty- two, and not only did I lose like twenty pounds, cause alcohol is horrible for you, but my life just became so much more efficient. When you start running a business your priorities are no longer socializing and making friends; it’s doing what you can to make a successful business. Finally having the confidence to be able to run my business on my own (and step away from my job at Politics)--that two-year span of just managing my time, my business, my job, and reaching that end goal of finally being able to self-sustain my own business--the process was the challenging part. I try not to be so hard on myself, even though I’m like my worst critic. You set goals, and you work hard and you meet them. I think whenever you’re passionate about something, whenever you’re dedicated to something, it makes it that much easier to do it, because you enjoy the work that you’re doing.
What is an early or favorite scent memory you have? What comes to mind when you imagine your favorite scent?
There’s this fragrance, and it’s the smell of my mom’s house. Well, it was the smell that followed us around. And sometimes I’ll get a whiff of it. I can’t fully explain it, I never know how to explain it, but it always reminds me of home. Which is so weird, because we never had a consistent home. It’s this smell that reminds me of my mom. And sometimes it’s in the air, sometimes it’s in a place that I go into.
Self-care: What is one non-negotiable self-care ritual that you try to regularly attend to?
I’ve been horrible at self-care for the past two years! I used to go to the gym every day. I was talking to you about the car accident that I was in, which was two years ago, and then I got hit by a car door, so I had tendonitis for the past eight months. Now that I can run again, and I can exercise again, I am a totally different person. Also, what I put into my body is a huge thing. I don’t eat a lot of cheese, I don’t eat a lot of meat – that stuff makes me so lethargic, it makes me tired. Self-care would be caring for my body, being able to run, being able to exercise.
Nature: We take great inspiration from travel & nature. What is the most inspiring natural place you’ve ever been to and why?
We were on a hike in Georgia, and it was like the first time that I had a little point and shoot on me -- and it was the first time where I was really looking at everything for what it was, and taking a moment to take it in and document it. I was behind, photographing snails, and mushrooms, and just like weird patterns on the trees, and that was really the point before I bought my first SLR that was me realizing that I loved capturing what was there. And seeing the world through my perspective, and documenting it that way. Another really amazing place was Yosemite--that was mind-boggling. I remember we were sitting up there, looking at everything, taking it all in, and just like thinking how miniscule all of my worries and all of my problems are. It just makes you realize how small you are.
And finally: What’s your greatest hope for the future?
I just want to run a successful business. I want people to enjoy working with me, and I want them to have a product that really does last a lifetime. I just want to be happy with what I’m doing, and happy with moving forward, and I don’t want to compare myself to others. I think that would probably be one of my goals for the future: having a successful business, and being more people-oriented.