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Remembering Rodney Smith Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

15 December 2016

Rodney Smith, who died in his sleep on Dec. 5 at his home in Snedens Landing, N.Y., was, in his own words, "a modest man. With eclectic sensibilities."

But most people preferred to think of him as whimsical.

He was born the day before Christmas in 1947 in Manhattan. His father was one of four partners in Anne Klein & Co. and his mother was a homemaker.

He graduated from the University of Virginia and earned a master of divinity degree in theology from Yale.

And all along, he labored unhappily under the shadow of his father, whom he felt he could never please.

A 1968 visit to the Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection of photography when he was a junior in college inspired him to take photography seriously. At Yale he studied under Walker Evans while pursuing his theology degree. He also studied with Ansel Adams.

Photography promised an escape from his father's expectations.

By 1976, he had earned a three-month fellowship to photograph in Israel, which led to the first of his five books, In the Land of Light.

He had a variety of corporate assignments in the 1980s before getting into fashion photography, working for Neiman Marcus, Mirabella, Saks Fifth Avenue, Marshall Field's and W magazine.

So much for escaping the corporate fashion world of his father.

His preferred camera was a Leica M4 before he moved to a medium format Hasselblad. He shot primarily in black and white until 2002 when he began shooting in color. But he never abandoned film for digital photography.

Nothing about all that suggests the whimsy of his work, though.

To enjoy that, a tour of his editioned prints is worth a few clicks. And Milene Fernandez's feature Rodney Smith's Photography for Life's Sake, published a year ago in the Epoch Times is worth scrolling through.

Fernandez visited with Smith just after the publication of his fifth book, Rodney Smith, which Smith had priced lower than his other books to reach a larger audience.

He told Fernandez the trick is to have a unique vision like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Irving Penn, W. Eugene Smith and Dorothea Lange:

A photograph is a really complicated thing in the sense that you are qualifying and quantifying this three-dimensional world and maybe its even more than three dimensions, but anyway, this three dimensional world which is full of all kinds of senses -- sound, smells, taste and memories -- to qualify it down to a two-dimensional piece of paper and then ask people -- who have no relationship to you or to your experience -- to look at it and say, 'I like this picture.' That's what those photographers could do.

And precisely what the eclectic Smith did, too.

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