Rodney Smith (1947-2016) was a prominent fashion and portrait photographer based in New York. His whimsical work invited comparison to that of surrealist painters like Rene Magritte. Long acclaimed for his iconic black and white images that combine portraiture and landscape, Smith created enchanted worlds full of subtle contradictions and surprises. Using only light and film, Smith’s un-retouched, dream-like images are matched in quality by his prints’ craft and physical beauty. Rodney Smith cared deeply about sharing his vision of the world with humor, grace, and optimism.
Rodney Lewis Smith was born in New York City. He found his artistic inspiration while visiting the permanent photography collection at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) during his junior year in college. After graduating from the University of Virginia in 1970, he earned a master’s degree in theology from Yale University while minoring in photography under Walker Evans. In 1976, he was awarded a Jerusalem Foundation Fellowship, which resulted in his first book, In the Land of Light.
Smith later traveled throughout the American South, Haiti, and Wales, making soul-searching portraits of workers and farmers and capturing the magnificence of the landscape. Influenced by the teaching and technical precision of Ansel Adams, Smith sought to perfect his technique, narrowing his choice of camera, film, exposure, developer, and paper. He used light to edit and reveal his subjects, rendering them in a broad spectrum of tones, ranging from crisp white highlights to deep velvety shadows.
Editorial clients included The New York Times, W Magazine, Vanity Fair, Departures, and New York Magazine. Smith was immersed in shooting fashion for Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Ralph Lauren, and Paul Stuart, among others. All sought to tap into his unique style and emerging affinity for spontaneity, humor, and surrealism.
“I trust my instincts to get to the heart of the matter. Once I find the right location and the right light, everything else follows from there.”
Throughout his life, Smith was passionate about the print as an artifact. “For me, the print is the creation, the purpose, the result of my endeavor.”
Rodney Smith’s images combine wit and elegance, a potent mix that any other photographer could not have created. His work continues to be shown at museums and galleries and collected by private individuals.