Photographer Rodney Smith Changed My View
New York City from Nashville, Tennessee
I recently had the opportunity to travel to New York City from Nashville, Tennessee. Being in the New York City area for several days exposes you to a wide variety of culture.
Just as we stepped out of our hotel lobby we were in Little Korea. Which offered an amazing array of food and culture all right outside our hotel lobby. Just a few blocks away with some of the best pastries and coffee, I've ever had. Made fresh and served with a friendly welcome.
Walking just a few more blocks we were at a FIT - Fashion Institute of Technology College in New York City, New York. At FIT NY we were able to walk through the fashion museum exhibits. One featuring high fashion hats that had been recently created by graduating seniors.
The other exhibit was across the street in the main Museum exhibit area called The Science of Lurex. We were able to do all of this and just the first few minutes of walking outside of our hotel New York City is an amazing place. One thing that I saw several times in New York and kept seeing the same images throughout the city were photos by Photographer Rodney Smith.
Throughout the years I had seen his work but I had not studied or become familiar with it. The images were just like reference files in my mind. I have seen them and they had stayed with me. But I did not know the depth of the work in the stories behind Photographer Rodney Smith.
So after returning from New York City I did a brief study on his work and became familiar with the man and the photos that perhaps so many of us have seen before and had we even seen other photographers copy his work.
I hope you enjoy this free article and review of the extraordinary photography by Photographer Rodney Smith.
For more than 45 years, fashion and art photographer Rodney Smith brought his unique vision to the world through his whimsical images.
Playful and surreal, his photographs appeared on the pages of TIME, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, among others. Even after his death in 2016, his legacy continues through galleries and museums that continue to show his work, as well as publications and new photographers influenced by his style.
Smith recognized elegance and beauty early, as the son of Anne Klein's president, Stanford Smith. While studying at Yale, I started taking classes with acclaimed photographer Walker Evans, soaking up all the information learned and transforming them into his own style. By merging what he learned, four factors became the driving force behind his composition, scale, proportion and working relationship.
Photos by Rodney Smith
"Composition in photography is like rhythm in music," he shared with My Modern Met in 2015. "I am a product of a previous era, for example, when the compositional senses of photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, W. Eugene Smith, André Kertsz, etc. were impeccable, everything was in the right place. "
In a time when we are used to seeing the manipulation of photographs, it is important to keep in mind that Smith's compositions were created in the camera. A faithful devotee of cinematographic photography, he never switched to digital technology, preferring to make magic on the site instead of in postproduction.
For much of his career, Smith shot exclusively in black and white, and only changed color in 2002. Even so, all his images have a classic and timeless feel, as if the characters were suspended in limbo. Even when they have their backs to the camera or hidden faces, their ability as an art photographer creates emotions not expressed in the viewer. In his own words, it was his "mission to find order out of chaos."
A man in a bowler hat about to jump from a skyscraper or at the top of a staircase in Times Square, these iconic images of Smith are an unmistakable nod to surrealism. A nod to Belgian teacher René Magritte, Smith saw his work as part of a personal search, one that helped him deal with and reveal his innermost feelings. "I risked my life for photography and returned the effort with abundance," he wrote on his blog in 2014.
“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,” he told My Modern Met in 2011.
“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.”
The magical world that Rodney Smith portrays endures, and his study continues to promote the lessons that Smith embodied through his photography. As more and more photographers return to the film, picking up the beloved Leica M4 and Hasselblad medium format, which were their tools of the trade, a renewed appreciation has emerged for what they could achieve.
In one of his best-known photographs, an elegantly dressed couple kisses in a taxi on a street in Upper Manhattan jammed with three taxi lanes, which Mr. Smith had hired. In another, a golfer in panties examines a shot from the branch of a live oak when a cloud seems to be close to wrapping it. In a third, an acrobat walks on a tightrope between high hedges while holding an umbrella in one hand.
He said he never previewed his shots taking Polaroids, and that he thought little about the images he created. He seldom used artificial light and refused to ask his subjects to smile.
His fashion photography and his work for various publications, including The New York Times Magazine, showed an emerging inclination for ingenuity and surrealism.
In the catalog of a 2003 exhibition of Mr. Smith's photograph at the University of Virginia, Jonathan Stuhlman, writer and curator of art, wrote: "In Smith's enchanted world, balance produces beauty, laughter and capricious dances of the hand, and things are not always what they seem. "The photographs, he wrote, offer" a perfect blend of dream and reality ".
Rodney Smith, a prominent photographer he, died on December 5, 2016 at his home in Snedens Landing, N.Y. He was 68 years old.
Photographer Rodney Smith Facts
Smith primarily photographed with a 35mm Leica M4
He transitioned to a 120/6x6 (medium format) Hasselblad with an 80mm lens.
He prefers natural light to illuminate his subjects.
In 1976 Mr. Smith spent 100 days photographing the people of the Holy Land, in Jerusalem.
Rodney Smith lived and worked in New York, New York.
Books by Rodney Smith
Rodney Smith Photographs by Rodney Smith
The Hat Book by Rodney Smith and Leslie Smolan
Photos by Rodney Smith