“Whether it’s the mood, or the diversity of an event, I want other people to see themselves reflected at those events, and see that there is joy in the community,” says 29-year old Toni Smailagic, who, with an emphasis on the cultural scene, has quickly emerged as one of Northeast Florida’s leading photographers. The youngest of three, with two older sisters, Smailagic was born in a city called Banja Luka in Bosnia, where his family lived until he was three. He then spent time in Croatia, Denmark and Germany before arriving to Jax in the late ‘90s.
Smailagic attended the University of North Florida, but left during his junior year to pursue the itinerant life of a creator, living in Paris for a while before taking a gig doing fashion photography in New York. It wasn’t the easiest life; his friends kept him fed, but he stayed hungry. He later moved to Miami, then Los Angeles, then back to New York before returning to Jacksonville a different man, eight years after he’d left. It was during these years that he developed his unique eye for personality, ably demonstrated in the photos, herein.
Smailagic’s is an internationalists’ approach, rendering the local scene in a way that resonates with wider audiences. His photography has now become a crucial aspect of the city’s overall brand, and his clients recognize that. “Photography is just a vessel for me to show people how I see the city,” he says. “Not just for Jacksonville, but for my friends around the world, who know a little more about Jacksonville because the things I’ve posted.”
Over the last couple of years, Smailagic has documented the explosive growth of this region’s cultural scene more prolifically than anyone else, the fruits of which he’s collecting in a book that will be ready in just a few months. He’s working to condense about 600 photos, which he’d narrowed down from over 21,000 taken under the auspices of his Instagram moniker @Cre8Jax. “I don’t do too well with attention,” he says. Well, that is something he’ll just have to get used to, because it’s coming.
This feature originally appeared in Void Magazine Vol. 9 Issue 8, The Photo Annual, under the header “Through the lens of this Bosnia-born photog, a new generation of creators takes the spotlight.”