Brandon Smith found inspiration, and new life, in yoga and photography–and magic happened when he combined the two.
Text by Kelli Gratz
Portrait Image by John Hook & Images Courtesy of Brandon Smith
About the photographer:
At first glance, Brandon Smith is an all-American golden boy, a young, good-looking gay man with a successful career in photography and an incredible eye for capturing yoga poses. He has everything together, living the dream of owning his own business in Hawai‘i, while still having the time to enjoy the simple things in life like surfing and picnicking at the beach. But all of this is what he calls “a different life,” his ideal one. His existence hasn’t always been so picture perfect.
Smith had a difficult childhood. When he was 3 years old, his parents divorced. From an early age, he struggled with body image issues and understanding his sexual identity. Born and raised on O‘ahu, he graduated from Mililani High School, which “for a white, nerdy kid, wasn’t the best of environments,” according to Smith. “I couldn’t process being picked on and feeling weird at that age. I remember looking in the mirror and feeling really unhappy about how I looked.” He dabbled with marijuana and alcohol, and at age 21, he dropped out of Virginia Commonwealth University. He returned home to Hawai‘i, where for the next nine years, he became lost in a world of drugs, including methamphetamine. “I started having schizophrenic-type hallucinations,” he recalls. “First it was hearing my name, quietly in the distance. Then it started to evolve into voices that I knew … I lost the ability to trust everybody in my life.”
At his lowest point, Smith had lost his friends, his job, his apartment, and he weighed 40 pounds less than the healthy 175 he is now. It took one round of rehab, a relapse, and the betrayal of a friend he was in love with for Smith to realize that he needed to regain control of his life. The months of withdrawal and recovery that followed were some of the hardest times he has ever experienced. It was yoga—along with a few inspirational friends who introduced him to photography—that Smith says saved him. “Every time I had a moment of clarity, I would do yoga,” he says. “I eventually was able to hold onto it, and haven’t looked back ever since.”
Today, at 33 years old, Smith has been sober for three years and continues to fuse his passion for photography with his 16-year love of yoga, shooting images of brawny yogis amidst Hawai‘i’s dramatic landscape. “Right now, everything is just so fun for me,” says Smith, whose skin is warm and tan, having just had a beach shoot in Waikiki. “Photography is the first thing in my life that’s given me back everything I put into it.”