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Sam Kelly: Smile Like You Really Mean It

            Temple students zigzag through teen tour groups, security guards, and professors, either thoroughly eager to complete their caffeine-driven tasks or entirely sluggish to study for that exam they have in a few hours. A young woman breezes through the glass doors of Paley Library, her lush ebony hair cascading down her flamingo-pink winter coat. She greets me with a huge radiant smile, something she is known for amongst the Temple community, in more ways than one.

            We sit beside two small desks squeezed between the white cinderblock wall and metal bookshelves on the second floor. As the distant murmuring of group chats in the library continues, we trade tales of insomnia nights dedicated to schoolwork. I would have never guessed that this vivacious individual had only received 20 minutes of sleep the night before.

            “Creativity does not sleep,” declares Sam Kelly. “Most people say I’m the energizer bunny, because I keep on going.”

            In addition to this admiral characteristic of determination, Sam Kelly immediately exudes a charismatic aura. Her undeniable charm is matched by her ebullient personality and professional demeanor. At the age of 21, this unwavering Photography Major is completing her last year at Tyler School of Art. I was extremely curious about her interest in this creative subject and wanted to know what beckoned her to this particular major in the first place.

            “I was adopted, so my life began with photography.”

            Kelly was only 18 months when she was adopted from Bolivia. She had a few photos of her origin at the time, so, essentially, she was born into photography. Kelly is immensely grateful for the family who welcomed her into their life and supported her passion for this creative art.

            “Family is a big influence in my life,” says Kelly. “When my father was 26, he was in a helicopter accident, which left him paralyzed. He’s now in a wheelchair. My mother supports my father, which is a big inspiration.”

            Kelly’s mother, a retired psych nurse, is now a freelance writer/photographer and caregiver/assistant to Kelly’s father.

            “I get the creativity bug from my mother,” Kelly beams. “I really am very blessed. Without family, there would be no art.”

            She is very grateful for her family; the fact that she was raised by parents who were a different race did not negatively impact her life. Quite the contrary, actually.

            “I love photography because it is so universal,” says Kelly. “Photography and smiles are the two languages that I speak.”

            Growing up multi-cultural allowed Sam Kelly to see the world in a different light. She accepts anyone and everyone, embracing their culture. She treats everyone equally. Kelly uses this mature outlook to guide her art. With her family’s support and her own zealous hunger for success, she hopes to achieve worldwide awareness of the incredible power created by one smile. This led her to establish The Smile Project.

            “I studied abroad in Bolivia with the International Design Clinic,” explains Kelly. “I wanted to help change the country. So, I thought, ‘how can I create smiles in Bolivia?”

            She decided a free photobooth would do the trick.

            “In 1 hour, you get a glossy 4×6 photo,” Kelly says. “I would keep the doubles for the archives.”
            The reward rested in the reactions of the Bolivians.

            “It’s really about seeing the smiles and the hugs and thanks I received,” Kelly admits. “The second interaction was always great, because I knew the smile brought them back.”

            She received a significant amount of joy from this project and believes her upcoming exhibition will increase the exposure of this smile movement she likes to refer to as “Smile Nation.”

            Only on May 5th, Sam Kelly will showcase her photography at this exhibition in Tyler School of Art.

            “I want to see people come out, smile, and connect to the work, and possibly donate,” Kelly declares. “It is always nice to have people believe in me.”

            She hopes that this exhibition will also show non-Tyler students how hard Tyler students work.

            “I am trying to pioneer Tyler and set the bar,” Kelly explains. “We’re usually known as ‘the art freaks’ or ‘the art hipsters,’ but I want to break that tension.”

            Since photography is universal to Sam Kelly, she believes this show will connect everyone, non-Tyler students and Tyler students alike. She wants to unite every community with the smiles she has captured. Kelly leaves for her second Smile Project on May 26th and plans on spending 3 weeks in Bolivia. She aspires to extend this movement beyond this country.

            “I will do whatever I can to go to Egypt, Vietnam, and anywhere else to spread The Smile Project,” Kelly says. “My only advice for other photographers: take photos, take photos, take photos! Keep your mind and eyes open. Be focused and believe in yourself.”

            Powerful words from an equally powerful young woman. She’s holding the torch and leading the way for other independent women who want to make a difference in this world. As Sam Kelly and I walk through the doors of Paley Library and go our separate ways, she smiles. A simple gesture can make a big difference.

            Venture out and see Sam Kelly’s (a name that deserves to be pronounced in its entirety) fine works of photography. The Smile Project exhibition will be held on May 5th at 6PM in Tyler’s Basement Lounge. The show will be up until May 9th. Free food shall be present at the event to make those stomachs smile. A speech by Sam Kelly will be given at 7PM sharp. Additionally, The Smile Project book will be on sale, as well as prints and Bolivian postcards. Come out and smile at this great project!

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