Cory’s beer-focused photos started appearing on my Instagram feed a couple of years ago and I’ve been cyber-stalking him ever since. A large amount of his photography is featured in his pieces for Good Beer Hunting or tucked away on his website (www.corysmithphoto.com). He’s a master of natural light, colour, and mood, and he’s had a huge influence on my photography and editing style of late. We finally crossed paths earlier this year in New York and shared a few beers around Brooklyn at Interboro, The Well and Gold Star Beer Counter. Hopefully the first of many encounters!
Cory Smith – Photo by Julie Roesser / @craftbeerdeer
Hey Cory! Before you set your sights on the beer industry, you were a music and fashion photographer, right? When did you get seriously into photography, and those areas in particular?
You’re right, I was. The former by choice, the latter by chance and quite limited really. With music I was just really into indie music when I first moved to NYC in 2006. I remember visiting sites like Pitchfork, Consequence of Sound and The Line of Best Fit daily and really paying attention to the photography, of the live shows specifically. That made me think “hey, I went to college for art, dabbled in photography, maybe I could give this a shot” as quaint as that sounds. But that’s really how it happened. I shot some stuff on my own, sent it in to TLOBF who just happened to be looking for someone to shoot in NYC and that’s how I joined on. I shot tons of local NYC shows at almost every venue, as well as a handful of international festivals like Primavera Sound in Barcelona, Pitchfork Paris and All Tomorrow’s Parties Iceland. For fashion, that was mainly through a friend who had a photographer drop out of a look book shoot and asked if I’d step in, thinking back to my imagery I’d done with music. That one time gig ended up going for a couple of years, shooting multiple seasons.
ATP Iceland | Photo by Cory Smith
What was the turning point for moving towards the craft beer industry?
It was a bit accidental really. I was already shooting music at the time, so I was doing a fair amount of photography. But I’d also discovered craft beer. I’d been making notes on my phone, trying to keep up with the beers I’d had. I’d also taken a picture of a few to remember them. Then a lightbulb went off that maybe I’d start trying to take better photographs of them. That was around the time I was starting to get a bit more active on Instagram, but thought my friends and family wouldn’t want to see pictures of beer, so I started a beer-centric instagram, @bkbeerguy.
Cory’s Instagram Feed – @cory_s_smith
Good Beer Hunting is a fantastic platform for storytelling within the industry. How did you get involved with those guys?
As my instagram grew, I started getting interested in stories about the beer industry, and very specifically the work Good Beer Hunting was doing. I always say, even before I was involved with them, I was a fan. There was beauty and real depth of story in everything they were doing and that appealed to me in a big way. Through my instagram and a few pieces I’d done for a Stockholm-based blog 99 bottles, GBH gave me a chance with a single story and I’ve been with them ever since.
Have you been tempted to tell stories through videography rather than photography?
I have, but the quickness of photography appeals to me. I can be quick and nab a moment then get back to what I’m doing. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love moving images. I once had a pipe dream of becoming a director, having worked with a lot in my day job. I even took some classes. I love the moving image and have scores of films I admire. I’ve just not been able to make the leap and make it work for me and my workflow.
The Veil Brewing | Photo by Cory Smith
Is there one story from all of your beer travels that you’ll never forget?
Wow, there’s probably many. Off the top of my head I’d probably say my first visit to Mikkeller & Friends in Copenhagen. Context is important here—this was in 2013 and I had only just started to really delve into beer. The scene in NYC was far less developed than it is now, so my exposure was purely based on what bars got in. The idea of beer tourism had only really started to flourish. I don’t even really remember how we found it because, to be frank, I’d never even heard of Mikkeller at the time, I was so novice. But I remember so vividly arriving at this bar that didn’t look like a bar and seeing 40 taps that were filled with breweries and beers I’d never heard of. That first night there is probably what solidified my desire to learn as much as I could. I was hooked.
We have a shared love for Copenhagen. What keeps drawing you back in?
How much it packs into a smaller city. Copenhagen’s population is just north of half a million, but the art, beer, and particularly the food scene is second to none. It’s extremely charming, and with a bike, extremely manageable to navigate. For me personally, I think it’s a welcome change of pace to the bustle and grind of New York City without sacrificing or feeling like you’re in a sleepy town with nothing to do. I’d move to Copenhagen tomorrow if I could. It’s my favourite city, full stop.
What do you shoot with most often? And are there any magic old cameras and lenses that you dig out every now and then?
I’ve been using the Canon 5D platform for a while now. I skipped the Mark III but recently upgraded from the II to the IV. I’m not a huge gear head and in fact, I like to travel lighter these days. The way I’m shooting and what I’m trying to capture, gear is a means to an end. More times than not, it’s the Mark IV and the little 50mm 1.4, because it’s so small and gobbles up light. If I’m doing a portrait though, I’ll use my old 70-200 2.8, which is a holdover from my music days, needing reach, particularly at the larger festivals. Funny how I use that probably not in the way it was intended, but it just does such a wonderful job with portraits, especially if I step way back and zoom it to 200. If I’m traveling and want to have some fun, I have an old Hasselblad 500 c/m from the 70s I might bring along. It’s kind of a beast to carry around, but the images that come out of it just have a sort of magic and essence to them.
Do you get frustrated with the modern consumption of photography, particularly when we mostly view carefully edited high definition images on a tiny screen that would have much more of an impact on a larger display?
I certainly do! I’ve done a photoshow at Finback and loved seeing the images I’ve shot in a much larger format versus reduced to our tiny screens. So I get it, it diminishes the impact certainly.
Barcelona-El Prat Airport | Taken with Hasselblad 500 c/m by Cory Smith
You must come across some great photographers, writers and so forth on your travels. Anyone in particular that we should be keeping an eye on?
There are two folks that come to mind: JoMando Cruz and Matt Furman. Cruz is part of San Antonio Beer Magazine and a really excellent photographer who frequently shoots film. His imagery just always seems flawless to me and captures a mood. He’s much better at capturing people than I am. Furman is @thepourtraits on instagram whilst also maintaining his own feed. With thepourtaits, he captures brewer portraits that make me jealous. How he processes his images, how he seems to capture the essence of the person is something I can’t do, so I always look forward to what he’s going to post next.
You’ve taken some pretty great portraits though! Do you have a favourite of the images below?
Wow, really hard to say. Each creates a very vivid memory of when and where I was when taking it. I’d have to say the one of Josh Van Horn at Gold Star Beer Counter. First of all, it’s my favourite beer spot in Brooklyn. Second, I knew I wanted to capture a photo of him to submit to Good Beer Hunting, and it occurred to me that one of the most unique features of that bar is the walk up window where you can order a growler to go. When that aspect of the bar entered my mind, I knew I needed a photo of him hanging out of it. The rest is all his smile and charm. That photo stands out to me as an example of looking for that hook or that unique element that helps tell a larger visual story.
I’m pretty sure that I could answer this myself having watched your Instagram stories closely, but for the non stalkers out there, what are your favourite NYC beer haunts?
As alluded to above, my go-to is Gold Star Beer Counter, which I was happy to see you visit when you were here, as well as visit it with you. Josh and those guys have a super relaxed bar that appeals to my design sense and they always have great stuff on tap. I’m also a fan of Brouwerij Lane but sadly don’t get over there as much as I’d like. Folksbier is my go-to brewery right now. Lager-focused and just super chill, my kind of spot. Walking distance from my apartment too, which never hurts. If I’m in the city, As Is or Proletariat are the spots.
Have you got anywhere left on the beer travel bucket list?
I’m travelling less these days specifically for beer, allowing it to become more incidental and/or accidental. I like being surprised more and more. I’m also seeing my varying interests, these overlapping passions of all things consumable—beer, food, wine, cocktails—actually makes beer more fun for me. What I mean is, when it’s not the focus, I find there’s no pressure to make sure to hit certain places, certain beer bars or breweries. I then find my time at the places I do end up being more relaxed, having a beer and enjoying the moment versus thinking about where I need to get to next.
I’ve given up checking beer into Untappd and I don’t really do can/bottle releases anymore. I’m way more into the experience the beer brings vs what’s specifically in my hand. I do want to get to South America and see what’s going on down there. And as I’ve been doing more and more road trips, there’s a big patch of the northern US that I’ve not seen and want to visit via car, which will inevitably lead to hitting places at night for a beer or two. Not knowing where or what those places will be is part of the fun these days.
Wren House Brewing Co | Photo by Cory Smith
If money and availability weren’t an issue, what would you fill your drinks fridge / shelf / cellar with?
Ha, great question. Definitely a huge helping of Marcel LaPierre wines. His beaujolais is what made me start paying attention to wine a bit more (though admittedly I still have much to learn). Definitely enough Campari, vermouth and gin to continue making negronis for the foreseeable future…there’s never a bad time for a negroni in my book. I’d then stock a bunch of bottles from Drie Fonteinen that I could sit on for an extended period, knowing they’ll hold up. I’d round it out by having a huge cache of drinkable, crushable pils, most likely an obscene stash of Palatine Pils from Suarez Family Brewing. Much has been said about Dan’s beers and all the stories are true. He’s making great stuff up in the Hudson Valley.
3 Fonteinen | Photo by Cory Smith
Thanks to Cory for sharing his wonderful pictures and kindly answering my many questions. If you’d like to keep up with Cory, follow his photography and writing exploits via the links below!
Cory’s Instagram : @cory_s_smith
Cory’s Website : www.corysmithphoto.com
Cory on Good Beer Hunting : www.goodbeerhunting.com