rodney smith odelisk.jpg

RODNEY SMITH

Rodney Smith was educated in theology but it was to photography as he always returned to. During his studies at Yale, he also studied photography with Walker Evans. Rodney Smith was a professor of photography at Yale University. In addition to his personal work, he has also done successful assignments for BMW, Ralph Laurent, The New York Times Magazine, American express, IBM, Heinz, New York Stock Exchange, Starbucks Coffey. In 1975 he received the Jerusalem Foundation Fellowship, which enabled a three-month stay in Jerusalem. This work resulted in his first book, In the land of light. After that he has published a series of popular books. Rodney Smith helped us to see the world differently, a place of beauty, grace, style and humour. A brilliant and poetic man, an artist whose work will live on and inspire us for all future.

Interview with Rodney Smith



”Composition in photography is like rhythm is in music.”

RODNEY SMITH

1947-2016

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By Rodney Smith

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Odelisk no 1 by Rodney Smith

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Reed perched on the top of ladder by Rodney Smith

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Woman with Hat Between Hedges by Rodney Smith

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Jerry in Innertube with Duck by Rodney Smith

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Bernadette red hat by Rodney Smith

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Gary and Henry Chasing Butterfly by Rodney Smith

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Black Hat by Rodney Smith

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Danielle in Boat by Rodney Smith

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Bernadette in Red Hat with Book by Rodney Smith

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Bernadette No. 2 by Rodney Smith

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Saori on sea plane wing by Rodney Smith

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MORE ABOUT RODNEY SMITH

For over 45 years, fine art and fashion photographer Rodney Smith brought his unique vision to the world through his whimsical imagery. Playful and surreal, his photographs graced the pages of TIME, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times, among others.

Rodney Smith was educated in theology but it was to photography he always returned to. 

During his studies at Yale, he also studied photography with renowned photographer Walker Evans. 

In 1975 he received the Jerusalem Foundation Fellowship, which enabled a three-month stay in Jerusalem. This work resulted in his first book, In the land of light. After that he has published a series of popular books. Rodney Smith helped us to see the world differently, a place of beauty, grace, style and humor. A brilliant and poetic man, an artist whose work will live on and inspire us for all future.

Rodney Smith was born December 24, 1947 in Manhattan, New York. After he studied English Literature and Religious Studies at University of Virginia in 1970, Smith went for his graduate degree in Theology at Yale University in 1973. Smith said in an interview with Kodak,“Iabsolutely knew I wanted to be a photographer, but I didn't feel that studying in an art school or a photography department full time was the way to address the issues that were interesting to me - so I sort of entwined the two." While at Yale, he also studied under renowned photographer Walker Evans, soaking in the lessons learned and transforming them into his own style. Merging what he learned, four factors became the driving force behind his work—composition, scale, proportion, and relation.

“I am a product of an earlier era—for example, when the compositional senses of photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, W. Eugene Smith, André Kertész etc. were impeccable; everything was in the right place.”

Composition is derivative from classical tenants. That is, how things fit into the environment, their placement and scale in the environment, the relationships between objects and people, the photographer and his subject – those are all classically based sentiments.

In poetry, if one writes in iambic pentameter that is similar in cadence to body rhythms. That’s why people always like it when something’s in meter because it feels comfortable to them. It resonates with the human heartbeat.”

In 1976 Mr. Smith spent 100 days photographing the people of the Holy Land, in Jerusalem. From the 88 Rolls of film shot, Smith ended up compiling two portfolios, which later became his first book:“Inthe Land of the Light: Israel, a Portrait of Its People(1983).Published by Houghton Mifflin Company, published in Israel.

After returning from Jerusalem, Rodney Smith spent a short time as an adjunct professor of photography at Yale University. As Smith continued his career into the nineties he slowly shifted from corporate executives to fashion photography.“Myfeelings about photography are exactly the same today as when I was 20. That is, I have a love/hate relationship with making pictures.” Looking at pictures is one thing, he qualifies,“Butmaking pictures — making pictures for me is hard, hard work.”

”One of the things that is interesting, and I think people are always intrigued by this, is that though my pictures seem so composed, they are extremely spontaneous. 95% of the pictures I take, I didn’t even know I was going to take them a few minutes before.

I do not have any preconceived or preordained ideas. The location is the key in which I compose in. Once I find the location, everything sort of falls into place for me. It’s the location that drives all the pictures. My guiding principles are to try to speak the most privately, To expose my most intimate feelings, thoughts, and anxieties. That way I always know I am speaking the smallest, most private truth. If I can do that, if I can speak with a small truth, then that is the most a small person in a very large world can ever hope to do.”

In an age when we are used to seeing photo manipulation, it is important to note that Rodney Smith’s compositions were created in-camera. A faithful devotee of film photography, he never switched over to digital technology, preferring to make magic on site rather than in post-production.

For much of his career, Smith shot exclusively in black and white, only switching to color in 2002. Still, all his imagery has a classic, timeless feel. Even when their backs are turned to the camera or faces are obscured, his skill as a fine art photographer brings out unspoken emotions in the viewer. In his own words, it was his“missionto find order out of chaos.”

Smith primarily photographed with a 35mm Leica M4 before he transitioned to a 120/6x6(mediumformat) Hasselblad with an 80mm lens. He preferred natural light to illuminate his subjects, but occasionally used continuous lighting.

Rodney Smiths love for photography was evident and he was entirely unapologetic about his loyalty to working exclusively with film. His passion was infectious and inspiring.

With an illustrious career spanning over 45 years Rodney Smith has produced countless iconic images that are a perfect blend of sophistication and whimsy. Rodney Smith’s body of work speaks for itself. It sets him apart.

In the past 25 years, Smith received 50+ awards including First Prize for his book"TheEnd" from International Photography Awards(IPA).He has also received several Communication Arts and Photo District News(PDN)awards. Rodney Smith's work has been featured in numerous publications from the Wall Street Journal to Martha Stewart, from Time to Bloomingdales. In addition to his personal work, he has also done successful assignments for BMW, Ralph Laurent, American express, IBM, Heinz, New York Stock Exchange, Starbucks Coffee.

Rodney Smith died in his sleep on December 5, 2016 at the age of 68.

After his passing his legacy carries on through the galleries and museums that continue to display his work, as well as publications and new photographers influenced by his style.