Photographer Brian Bowen Smith Captures The Beating Heart Of Pandemic-Era America In His New Book, “Drivebys”

Brian Bowen SmithPhoto Credit: Brian Bowen Smith

When the pandemic struck, photographer Brian Bowen Smith got creative. As for everyone, work (his includes shooting for countless publications and commercial clients) had come to a standstill. Unlike everyone, he wasn’t going to hunker down at home in fear. Instead, he hit the road in his old girl “Pearl,” a classic 1958 Ford F100, and took off across the country on an epic journey, determined to capture the new normal in the era of social distancing while documenting the soul of American culture during the pandemic. And thus, his second book, Drivebys, was born. At the same time, Brian, who was discovered and mentored by the iconic photographer Herb Ritts, partnered with celebrity friend Eva Longoria (one of his many) on Casa Del Sol, a premium line of tequila in collaboration with cognac brand Laurent Martell to create a unique product: three tequilas aged in French Limousin oak cognac barrels. Here, this beloved photographer snapper shares what inspired him to take these two giant leaps of faith.

Brian Bowen SmithPhoto Credit: Brian Bowen Smith

How did the Drivebys project come about? What was the inspiration behind it?

Drivebys really came about through a happy hour zoom with my neighbor. They have a daughter who wanted to learn photography but because of Covid I couldn’t have her on set and wasn’t even shooting. I set up a shoot with her to go over photography skills and that’s how that first picture of the book (the girl with the umbrella) came to be. It started raining that day but we did it anyway, which made it way cooler.

Brian Bowen SmithPhoto Credit: Brian Bowen Smith

What did Drivebys entail?

What the Drivebys project entailed was literally just getting out there and doing drivebys. I would post on Instagram what cities I was going to be in next and had people DM me with their ideas. Then I would go over things through FaceTime or on the phone. Once everything was set, I would show up and literally just shoot them through the window. I never got within 12 feet of anybody.

Brian Bowen SmithPhoto Credit: Brian Bowen Smith  

What was your favorite driveby, with who and why?

That’s like asking what your favorite ice cream is or who your favorite musician is. Each one was so unique in its own way. Funny enough, I thought the book was going to be around 150 pages because I figured I would edit some of the pictures. Turns out I used everyone and the book was doubled in size. That kind of hurt the pocketbook but it was so worth it.

Brian Bowen SmithPhoto Credit: Brian Bowen Smith

What was the inspiration behind the creative direction for Casa Del Sol?

The creative direction I had in mind for Casa del Sol was to mix art and tequila together in a way that was not just someone holding a bottle. I wanted to shoot photos that look like fine art on their own. One of the goals was to focus on the elements.

Brian Bowen SmithPhoto Credit: Brian Bowen Smith  

How does your artwork with Casa Del Sol differ from your other projects?

My regular fine art, aside from the nudity, doesn’t really stray too far from what I’m trying to do with Casa Del Sol. For the first couple of ads, we really wanted to focus on the wind. You will find this out later when we tell the story of how tequila was invented. I try not to think too much into, just kind of create a natural environment, and then freestyle the shoots. Although we do come up with some kind of concept beforehand, we really just have a loose way of working and it seems to work out.

Brian Bowen SmithPhoto Credit: Brian Bowen Smith

This book has already seen a lot of celebrity support. Can you share a bit about that, and from whom you’ve seen support?

Naturally, because I’m in the celebrity portraiture world, Drivebys got a lot of celebrity support. Josh Brolin wrote the most beautiful forward I’ve ever read. But the celebrities that are involved really are involved on the same level a someone who works at a gas station or milk house. It wasn’t celebrity-driven on my end. Whatever support I got, they gave on their own which is really beautiful to me. The book was really about us leveling the playing field during these hard times that COVID-19 brought us.

Brian Bowen SmithPhoto Credit: Brian Bowen Smith

Are you already thinking about the next work or relishing the work that went into this one for the moment?

I am constantly thinking about the next project. They kind of come to me and I don’t really think too hard. One day, I get an idea and then I just run with it and there’s no stopping me.

Eva LongoriaPhoto Credit: Brian Bowen Smith

 What to you is the greatest luxury in life and why?

I think the greatest luxury in life is time, if you have time on this earth and you’ve got time to figure your shit out and get it done. Some people aren’t so fortunate. Not knowing is the most beautiful thing in the world to me. Who knows what my next adventure is going to be? I mean I’m part owner in a tequila company. How the hell did that happen?   
Casa Del SolPhoto Credit: Casa Del Sol