Prominent fashion photographer Rodney Smith‘s (1947–2016) imaginative and whimsical images from a forty-ﬁve-year career are thoughtfully curated into Rodney Smith: A Leap of Faith (J. Paul Getty Museum). This title is the deﬁnitive record of the life’s work of this truly original artist and educator.
Born in New York City, Smith started work as a photo essayist, before turning to portraiture, and eventually ﬁnding his niche and greatest success in fashion photography. He was a regular contributor to The New York Times, W Magazine, Vanity Fair, Departures, and New York Magazine, and shot campaigns for luxury retailers including Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, and Ralph Lauren, among others.
Inviting comparison to the surrealist, Rene Magritte, Smith’s’ fashion photography has long been hailed as a delightful revelation. Meticulously-crafted, humorous, paradoxical, romanticized, and fun, Smith created scenes of enchantment, and surprising, dream-like worlds without retouching, setting him apart from his contemporaries and beyond. Getty Museum curator Paul Martineau describes Smith, “…like Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, his photographs lead us down the rabbit hole to a fantastical place that is just beyond our reach but one intended to inspire us to be better versions of ourselves.”.
In Rodney Smith: A Leap of Faith, Martineau weaves through the artist’s history in a detailed bio-critical essay, mapping the artist’s creative trajectory—including his introduction to photography, early personal projects, teaching, commissioned pieces, and career in fashion–providing insight into his personal life and character, contextualizing his work and creative tendencies within his privileged but lonely upbringing and complex emotional and psychological makeup.
This lavish volume features nearly two hundred reproductions of Smith’s images—many of which have never been published. Inspired by renowned Life magazine photo-essayist W. Eugene Smith, taught by Walker Evans, and devoted to the techniques of Ansel Adams, Smith was driven by technical mastery and beauty. The Center for Creative Photography’s chief curator, Rebecca A. Senf contributes an in-depth technical assessment of Smith’s production, his exacting process, and his use of photography as a means of human connection.
“Like all great art, Rodney’s had a look that became singular over time, and you recognize it the moment you see it.” – Graydon Carter
Paul Martineau is curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum.
Graydon Carter, a cofounder of Spy magazine and the founder of Air Mail, was the editor of Vanity Fair for twenty-ﬁve years.
Rebecca A. Senf is chief curator at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
Leslie Smolan, the executive director of the Estate of Rodney Smith, was the creative director of Carbone Smolan Agency for more than forty years.
Rodney Smith: A Leap of Faith
Paul Martineau, with contributions by Rebecca A. Senf and Leslie Smolan Introduction by Graydon Carter
J Paul Getty Museum
248 pages, 9 ½ x 11½
224 color illustrations