Rodney Smith: A Leap of Faith

Rodney Smith: A Leap of Faith

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Text by Teerin Julsawad

Rodney Smith, with his enigmatic and dreamlike photographs, carved an inimitable niche in the world of art and photography. Known to many as a dear friend and idol, his untimely departure left a void not just in personal lives, but in the very realm of artistic creation. CHANINTR, having been closely associated with Smith, has had the privilege of being painted in his whimsical brushstrokes. His mesmerizing works grace our magazine covers, while his philosophical ideals resonate in the ethos of our establishment.


A maestro of black and white imagery, Smith’s photographs echo surrealism reminiscent of Rene Magritte, weaving magic into the mundane. From the first spark of inspiration at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) to his refined masterpieces, Smith’s journey in photography was a deep dive into the ethereal. With an uncanny ability to juxtapose portraiture and landscape, he sketched enchanted worlds teeming with subtle contradictions and gentle surprises.

Through his lens, Smith unveiled stories — from the grandeur of landscapes to the intimate portraits of workers, farmers and CEOs. His technical prowess, shaped by the teachings of Ansel Adams, brought out details otherwise overlooked, transforming the ordinary into extraordinary tales. Corporate portraiture, under Smith’s gaze, evolved, revealing the human facets of the mighty.

In the realm of fashion photography, where retouching and digital interventions have become commonplace, Smith’s unadulterated approach is refreshing. His images, enriched with spontaneity, humor and surrealism, create a narrative that transcends time. His late ventures into fashion, commissioned by elite brands and magazines, further stamped his unique visual signature on the industry.

His life, though abundant in success, was also a quest for human connection. Smith’s tale is not just that of an exceptional artist, but a soul seeking meaning and beauty in the world.

The recent book, “Rodney Smith: A Leap of Faith,” masterfully curated and released by J. Paul Getty Museum, endeavors to encapsulate the life and brilliance of this visionary. The book is a testament to Smith’s evolution, weaving his personal history and artistic trajectory. It serves as both a detailed biography and an aesthetic commentary. Paul Martineau, the curator of the J. Paul Getty Museum, intricately maps the artist’s journey, offering readers unparalleled insights. The volume, boasting nearly 200 reproductions, is a visual spectacle and a heartfelt tribute to a genius whose influence remains indelible. It’s not just about the photographs; it’s about the man behind the lens, his passions, aspirations and the stories that shaped his perspective. As Smith’s artistic partner and wife, Leslie Smolan, touchingly notes, “He had a quest to make the world more beautiful, more precise, more peaceful… Rodney was always pushing me out of my comfort zone. He saw the person behind the expectations.”

Plate 63 Skyline, Hudson River, New York, 1995

This autumn, New York City plays host to an exquisite exhibition of Smith’s prints at Staley-Wise Gallery, running from September 15 to November 4. This showcase not only captures Smith’s artistry but also serves as a testament to his enduring legacy. Those visiting will be treated to a journey through Smith’s imaginative realms, and if you’re in the city, it’s an experience not to be missed.

For readers and art enthusiasts, “Rodney Smith: A Leap of Faith” is not just a book. It’s an invitation into a world of beauty, elegance and enchantment. It’s a celebration of a legacy that, in the words of Chanintr Sirisant, “will be thoroughly missed but never, ever, forgotten.”

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This article appears in Winter 2023 issue of Chanintr Living Download full issue

Or explore the entire library Visit the Chanintr Living Archive

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