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From Southern California, public radio for your eyes.

Souls of LA

Before the iPhone and Instagram even existed, Sam Smotherman was already doing mobile photography – on a Palm Treo.

Known as @whittiersam on Instagram, he's known for his intimate street portraits taken all over Southern California.

Sam Smotherman's street photography (not all of them mobile) will be on display this Saturday at FWD Studio in Chinatown.

When he first started experimenting with mobile photography, he never photographed people. Smotherman liked juxtaposing objects and compositions with witty tags.

"I'd take a picture of a spilled coffee and write, 'coffee murder,'" he said.

But everything changed for Smotherman when the first-generation iPhone came out in 2007.

He began walking around L.A. with his iPhone in hand, documenting people on the street and asking them about their stories.

Smotherman started posting his pictures to Instagram with narrative captions.

By 2011, he had become part of the Instagram street photography community. Along with NYC Instagrammer Renzo Grande (@aliveinnyc) he launched the 24 Hour Project – the world's largest street photography experiment.

"Street photography is about the person you're documenting," Smotherman said at KPCC's 24 Hour Project/Workshop event last June. "The moment wasn't created, it just happened."

Smotherman likes to get to know many of his subjects. In December 2012, he met Tracy (slide #8) at an Instawalk put on by Instagram Lovers Anonymous.

Tracy has lived on the Los Angeles River for 10 years; he lives near the Sixth Street Bridge. Smotherman comes and checks on him from time to time.

"These are people who are often overlooked, not looked well on," he said. "A lot of them are on the margins."

We see people like Tracy in L.A. a lot but we don't always think about their stories, Smotherman said.

He likes to sit down and listen: "finding out how they live and what they do to survive," he said.

Smotherman is calling the show "Souls of L.A.," documenting the people who give Los Angeles their soul.

"Souls of L.A." will soon also be a website home to the ongoing series, giving his photographs a little more screen space than on mobile phones.

Check out Sam Smotherman's photographs in person this Saturday, Feb. 22 from 7 to 11 p.m. FWD Studio is located in Chinatown at 1980A N. Main St., Los Angeles 90031.

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