by Britt Chester

Caleb Smallwood’s journey to becoming a photojournalist | @awfullybrittish

“I traveled for a bit, and the camera was always with me,” said Caleb Smallwood, 29, looking back on the past 10 years of his life. “I’d be visiting these cool spots and when you have shit technology or just a bad camera, you don’t get what you see. I was spending a lot of money traveling to Hawaii or Europe, and I wasn’t getting back what I wanted.”

This, plus a host of other reasons, led Smallwood to where he is now, which is a photojournalism student at Randolph Community College. Prior to this, though, Smallwood’s life took a series of u-turns and switchbacks.

“I was at Appalachian State University from 2003 to 2005 when I heard about the photo program at RCC. I moved back here in 2011 and remembered the photo program I heard about and decided to check out the facilities,” he said.

When Smallwood was at ASU, he was just a photo student and hobbyist doing what he could to sell fine art prints and landscape photos taken in the Blue Ridge Mountains. But due to the changes in bylaws for state schools following the fatal shooting at Virginia Tech, and a particular nomenclature attached to Smallwood’s past, he was not eligible to receive federal funding to continue his education at ASU. Because Smallwood was a felon, he was kicked out of school.

“I was second in my class at (ASU), one of the prominent photo students “¦ I was putting in work! Regardless of letters from professors, it was one of those things that sent my life in a different direction for awhile,” he recalled.

He worked various jobs in fine dining restaurants around the High Country “” Eseeola Lodge in Linville, the nowdefunct Morel’s in Banner Elk “” while trying to get his life back on track.

“It’s been a long road. It’s been very rewarding at times.

There is also a lot of wasted time because of how the system is rigged. I was fortunate to keep jobs and financial stability where a lot of people are not able to do so. They might get sucked back into the prison system,” he said.

Because of his particular experience, Smallwood has his sights set on moving his photography skills into the world of multimedia: Along with some associates, he hopes to produce a documentary about the criminal justice system and addiction, or what he called “The Big F: Felon.”

The degree he will receive upon graduating from RCC will be in photojournalism, but even he admits that his style doesn’t fall in line with the traditional model of editorial photography.

“As my (photojournalism) professor says, I don’t have the photojournalist style of photography,” he said. “My stuff isn’t the News & Record stuff “” those editors won’t like my photos. It’s not mainstream style, so I’m going to have to find my niche and sell my style. It’s something that I think I will be able to work.”

Right now, Smallwood is taking advantage of the opportunities afforded to him at RCC. Although his camera, the Canon 5D MKII, or what he refers to as his “primary workhorse,” is always at his side along with a collection of lenses, he is adamant in recognizing the access he is afforded to with RCC’s equipment department.

“The school has a wicked checkout system “¦ and I just went to a convention in Atlanta with something, like, $10,000 worth of equipment. It’s great.”

As he continues to pursue his education, Smallwood will continue to capture his surroundings in hopes of landing a recurring gig with an independent publication.

“I have an interest in the fine art side of photography. I spend a lot of time in the dark room and work a lot with processes that people don’t really mess with anymore. I’m shooting and developing my own 4×5 slides “¦ I do a lot of positive/negative print transfers “¦ playing around getting my hands chemically dirty,” he said. “But that doesn’t pay bills, so also with that photojournalism stuff, it’s day to day working. I’m hoping to work with some magazines, even if it’s more outside stuff, I’m able to do that.” !


To see more of Caleb Smallwood’s photography, visit his website at