After the loss of her mother at a young age, Taris Smith was determined to capture moments for others through photography. That led her to Louisville.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Photographers have the ability to freeze moments in time. University of Louisville Athletics photographer Taris Smith knows the responsibility that comes with that power.
At 24 years old, Smith is one of two staff photographers for the Cardinal’s athletic department. Capturing memories has been her dream since she was a little girl.
“I like to think that being able to freeze those moments in time is something that people can have and cherish with them if tragedy comes to their life,” she said.
That sentiment comes from her heart, as her passion for photography, people and capturing moments came from her own loss young in life.
Now, she’s determined not only to freeze the biggest moments on field and court, but to be an example to others as she does it.
At 11:30 a.m. on an overcast Saturday morning, Smith is running by her office to grab an extra lens before preparing for Louisville hosting Duke at L&N Stadium.
She unpacks her gear in a room filled with other photo interns and the department’s video staff as she goes over the plan for the day.
“We usually get here an hour, two hours before the game starts,” Smith said.
On football game days, she runs the show. Checking in with each intern, making sure they have what they need and knowing their assignments for the day before going out to shoot Card March.
“I’ll show you where you’ll be,” she tells Dior Sy, who is shooting his first game. Reminding him to flip his credential so he can move about the stadium freely.
It’s the first few minutes of a long day for the creative staff who cover everything from tailgating, Card March, pre-game warmups, in-game promotions and, of course, game action. Each person has an essential role to capturing moments on and off the field for Louisville.
“Go team! You guys ready?” she asked as she throws her camera around her neck. The crew walks out to an empty field, quiet before the gates open to fans.
She positions Sy on the stairs of the stadium to be ready for when head coach Jeff Brohm and the Cardinals walk through the stands to head to the locker room, helping him with last-minute setting tweaks and words of encouragement.
“You’ve got this,” she says, smiling as she climbs the stairs of Cardinal Stadium.
While walking through people to head to the tunnel, she’s intentional about her steps. She avoids stepping on the Cardinal head and checks her camera after deciding to add a flash since the sun was no where to be found across the gray sky.
The forecast had light rain, so the crowd is not nearly as full as a Card March on a sunny game day, but she sees faces she knows just the same.
“It’s the closest I get to be to fans,” Smith said. “There’s one lady who has followed me on Instagram since I was literally in high school.”
As the Cardinals and Brohm walk down the steps from the bus to walk through the tunnel and fans, she is focused and quick. Looking for moments and smiling when she sees a shot she likes.
This university is home for Smith. Louisville has been home since she moved here as a kid, going through school and then going to college at UofL.
For her capturing these memories is personal. It has been for a long time.
Moments That Molded Her
When Smith was 9 years old, her mother passed away.
“My mom passing away was not something that anyone had planned for; it was very abrupt,” she said.
That’s when her father brought her and her brother to live in Louisville.
“My dad literally stopped everything to make sure that me and my brother were okay,” she said. “My dad at the time, was going through his doctorate degree in seminary. So he was doing his doctorate, working at Ford full time, and then trying to raise me and my brother, when we first moved here.”
Smith said she went through therapy after the loss of her mother and discovered art was an outlet she enjoyed. She started with painting and drawing, but when her father got her her first camera for Christmas when she was 10 years old — everything clicked.
“I just kind of fell in love with that,” she said. “I just always wanted to have a camera in my hand like family functions going to church. Literally, I remember as a kid, like literally would go to the grocery store sometimes.”
Family is everything to Smith. She calls her, her brother and father the “three amigos,” saying everything they did, they did together. A bond that still means a lot to her today.
Smith said her father has never waivered in his love and support for her passion from investing in camera equipment to driving her to photoshoots before she could drive.
“He’s the reason I’m here, I can’t put into words what he means to me,” she said.
As time moved forward, Smith realized the power of a photo. Each frame freezing a moment of time forever. Moments she wish she had more of.
“That’s probably the largest reason why I got into photography,” Smith said. She only has a few photos of her mother with her and he brother before she passed away.
” I wish that I had more of those moments with my mom captured,” she said. “I wish my brother had more of those moments captured with her. So I like to think when I’m taking pictures, I’m capturing moments for people that will live on with them forever.”
Almost 15 years after getting her first camera, she now captures moments like Final Fours, Bowl Games, Elite Eights. She’s shooting to save memories on some of the biggest sports stages in college sports. Something she dreamed about, watching Louisville sports as a kid, knowing how special these moments are to her home.
‘My Little Birdies’
Smith found her way to UofL Athletics after working for the Cardinal Newspaper during her freshman year. Since the school doesn’t offer a photojournalism program, she applied to be an athletic photo intern after some encouragement from others around her who saw her talent.
Now no longer an intern, she has her own staff of interns that she guides and teaches. Helping students find their own style, just like she did as an intern.
“Being able to lead and mentor our interns is probably my favorite part,” Smith said. “Our interns are awesome, I love them. They’re like my little kids. I always call them my little birdies.”
It’s a role she takes seriously and one you can see her doing every game day.
Before the kickoff against Duke she checked in on Rachael Klotz who also handles a long lens on the sidelines, and Caleb Jones who manned the corner of the end zones. Each person given words of encouragement; each instruction given with intention and kindness.
“Our jobs are not possible without our interns to be quite frank, they know how to get the job done.” Smith said. “They all come from different walks of life, different photo experiences, different ways of how they figured out that this is also what they want to do. I think that’s the cool part for me, is being able to kind of nurture that part of them that I also had in myself.”
Being a young Black woman on the sidelines of a Power 5 program is something that Smith takes to heart every time she walks onto the field.
It’s a path that didn’t seem possible to her at a young age.
“I didn’t even know that [being a photographer] was something that I could even do,” Smith said. “I think a lot of that was because the photos that I would look at on TIME magazine or Sports Illustrated, often times were taken by older white men. Seeing that can be kind of discouraging, when you don’t see people that look like you. Now I’m doing that job.”
She believes it’s important to have “powerhouse” women on the sidelines.
“I know how to do my job, and I know that I do it well, and I think we need more representation of that,” Smith said. “We don’t need a man telling us what to do. And I think I like to be an image of that on the sidelines. And I’d like to be pretty hyper aware of how I’m carrying myself in interacting with other people.”
Not only does she want to be that example on the sidelines or courtside, but she also adds perspective and uses her voice as a leader.
“Being a person of color, I can be a voice in those spaces for our student athletes of color,” Smith said. “The way we’re editing photos, making sure skin tones look correct, making sure athletes are represented properly in media and like those kinds of things really mean a lot to me. I think that I am able to, like, kind of bring perspective to the department.”
Even at 24, she knows the responsibility she has to be a role model for those who come after her.
“I want to be an inspiration to other people that look like me,” Smith said. “You can be young and into the industry and you can be young and you can stay here. And you can also be young and own your job.”
Especially as a woman in a male-dominated field.
“I don’t need someone breaking down what’s going to happen in the game,” she said. “For me, I don’t need someone telling me where I need to go, how I need to shoot. I think that’s something especially being a woman working in the sporting industry, unfortunately happens a little too often. Where people feel like they can impose their opinion or their expertise on you. And it’s just like, I know, sports just as well as you do, I can do this job just as well, if not better than you can.”
‘I know she’d be proud of me’
Every game day, Smith is living out her dream. A dream that is fueled by the love from her father and one that is in honor of her mother.
“My mom is my fire, that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing,” she said. “My mom didn’t get to do a lot of what she wanted to do.”
Smith credits her mom for why she she pushes herself “and why I refuse to take no for an answer when it comes to doing the things that I want to do.”
Smith now knows those moments she freezes for Louisville athletics is an honor she holds close to her heart and never takes for granted.
“My mom didn’t get to follow her dreams,” she said. “So the fact that I’m here following mine, I think she would be extremely proud. And my dad and my brother constantly remind me of that. And there are some moments where I feel that. I can walk into a packed stadium and sometimes it just feels like it’s me and my mom walking in here.”