Through Local Lens: Toni Smailagic is Introducing Jacksonville to Jacksonville

Interview with Toni Smailagic

Through Local Lens: Toni Smailagic is Introducing Jacksonville to Jacksonville
Toni Smailagic

By the time you read this, you will have about 1 week left to order your very own copy of a ground-breaking photography book depicting the people and places we all collectively home. Local photographer and owner of Cr8Jax, Toni Smailagic, is currently running a campaign to get his very first photo book into print edition! If you haven’t noticed Smailagic peeking from behind his lens around town before, there is a grand chance you might catch a glimpse of yourself in one of his sensational images from various events around town over the last few years. His photographs convey a straightforward and accurate, yet deeply heart-warming portrait of the people of our communities, and I challenge you to find even one photograph you don’t instantly relate to and fall in love with. 

After pre-ordering my own two copies, I read more about the book on the purchasing site: “Throughout the 264 pages of the 11 x 8.5in, hard-cover book you’ll find quotes from 33 of the most influential & impactful people I met in the city within the 2016-2018 timeframe. I asked them to offer a quote or piece of advice to the next generation of movers and shakers coming up behind them. You’ll find everyone from Mal Jones and Melissa Ross, to BeBe Deluxe and Jessica Santiago.”  This hard cover, coffee table photo book has started such a buzz in our local arts scene that I just had to ask Toni for a little more info to share with our readers:   

AH: You’ve been actively attending and photographing arts and culture events around Jacksonville for years now. You clearly have a love for this area and the people of this community- it is apparent in your images.  

How would you describe the REAL people (raw and gritty!) of the 904 to an outsider? 

TS: It’s hard to describe the “real” people to an outsider because we have so many different variations of who someone from Jacksonville is. Describing an artist in Riverside, a merchant in Springfield, a gas station owner in Arlington, to a firefighter in San Marco, are all so vastly different. Because the city is so large in area size, many people never encounter the majority of the city. We’re a developing melting pot. We show care for the communities we’re in, and as critical as we can be about the city, we’re quick to unite and show pride once any negative remark from the outside surfaces. We have perseverance and while everyone is still trying to carve out different identities in their pockets of the city, there’s still an overwhelming sense of southern hospitality that’s always present. 

Toni Smailagic, Introducing Jacksonville to Jacksonville

AH: You’re so young to have traveled and accomplished as much as you have. What’s your motivation? Are there days or nights that you just want to put the camera down? Or is it just that much a part of you?

TS: I finally hit 30 in June, so not sure if the teens I work with would consider me young, but I’ll take it lol. The motivation is that I have no other choice than to work, I just happen to actually love what I do. I LOVE meeting new people and learning about them and seeing how I can be of help to others. I love shining a light on things that don’t get a lot of recognition, and it’s become an ingrained part of me. To say I never wanted to quit and get a stable job, would be a lie. Waiting for clients to pay you or figuring out what to do during dry spells is something I don’t wish on anybody, but just know that it’s temporary. I’m always switching up my approaches to business, and always trying to expand my network to parts of the city that I don’t already have a base in. Overall, the quote “When we do what we love, that’s a passion. When our passion serves others, that’s a purpose” – sums up my relationship with photography.  

AH: Tell us a bit of your back story.

TS: I was born in Bosnia around the Bosnian War time and ended up escaping and living in a refugee camp in Denmark before moving to Germany. By age 9, we left Germany and moved to Jacksonville (which at the time had the largest Bosnian population in the U.S) and stayed here until I was a junior at UNF. I dropped out and moved to Paris to focus on fashion photography. Shortly thereafter, I started moving around and ended up living and working in the NYC, Miami, and LA markets for different designers and modeling agencies, mainly focusing on editorial work and developing new faces at agencies (new models that required test shoots to build their book). After my sister that lived in Jax at the time, moved to Germany, I had to come back to stay by my mother (which was about 3 years ago). Since my resume was a bit unorthodox, I didn’t have many choices in the workforce, so I took what I learned in fashion and photojournalism and applied it to Jacksonville. Starting with Art Walk, which led me to meet a ton of people (mainly creatives) in the city and made me fall in love with what the city truly offered; community. I spent the past three years documenting every event and creative person that I could and ended up with such a unique perspective on the development of the city, which led me to the book I launched now, which covers the 2016-2018 frame. I’m still dedicated to the city, and more-so the people and making sure I’m able to extend not just my services, but also share the network I built to the next person / artist and continue evolving the economic state of the arts here.

Toni Smailagic_Introducing Jacksonville to Jacksonville_book cover
Introducing Jacksonville to Jacksonville book cover

AH: Why this book now? 

TS: It was time to wrap up the hundreds of thousands of images I had from the years, and gift it back to the community in a cohesive way. We get so caught up in what the next event is, that having something tangible to reflect back on and appreciate is something I personally wanted to have, and the more I discussed it with others, I saw that there might be an actual need.

AH: What’s next for you? 

TS: My hopes are to use the profits from the book sales to purchase a new computer, a stabilizer and new sound equipment to finally start working on videos. That’s been the goal from the beginning to Cre8Jax, so finally being able to share stories via a different medium is extremely exciting to me! That will be the focus going forward.

Through Local Lens: Toni Smailagic is Introducing Jacksonville to Jacksonville

To see more of Toni Smailagic’s work and to purchase your own copy of “Cr8Jax: Introducing Jacksonville to Jacksonville”, visit Indiegogo and be sure to give his social media accounts a follow: @tonismailagic and @cr8jax and his website at

About Amanda Holloway