Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Rodney Smith: Old School With A Modern Twist

By Mark Edward Harris, Photography By Rodney Smith Published in Photographer Profiles
As photography continues to evolve in the digital age, Rodney Smith shoots primarily with black-and-white film. He isn't a luddite nor does he reject technology. While some may feel limited by film, Smith enjoys the obstacles, finding that they push his creativity. A self-proclaimed classicalist, Smith's style is sophisticated, surreal and distinctly his own. His timeless photographs are relevant to modern culture without following trends. He shoots everything in-camera, such as the photograph on the opening spread, right, which became a Time Magazine cover. Smith built a physical backdrop with clouds made of cotton. "There's not one bit of retouching. That's the fun of it for me. I'm a photographer, not an illustrator," he says.
As photography continues to evolve in the digital age, Rodney Smith shoots primarily with black-and-white film. He isn't a luddite nor does he reject technology. While some may feel limited by film, Smith enjoys the obstacles, finding that they push his creativity. A self-proclaimed classicalist, Smith's style is sophisticated, surreal and distinctly his own. His timeless photographs are relevant to modern culture without following trends. He shoots everything in-camera, such as the photograph on the opening spread, right, which became a Time Magazine cover. Smith built a physical backdrop with clouds made of cotton. "There's not one bit of retouching. That's the fun of it for me. I'm a photographer, not an illustrator," he says.

DPP: After graduating college, you went to Yale University to get your master's degree in Theology. Does this background play into your work?

Smith: And my bachelor's was in English and Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. It absolutely plays into my work. When I was studying theology I was fortunate enough to be in a program that allowed me to earn a large number of credits from the photography program, so I learned my craft. But learning the technique of photography only takes you so far. You have to have something in your heart that needs to be expressed or exposed. You have to find some way to give form to feeling. From my point of view, that generally doesn't come from just studying the technique of photography. You have to have some passion or some interest. Theology is, in part, the study of the existential questions that confront human beings. I really loved it. As Socrates would say, "The unexamined life is not worth living."

DPP: Why did you choose this field of study?

Smith: I began college as an English major, but found the department too academic, not raising existential questions about feelings. The Religious Studies program was asking the questions. I wasn't interested in the answers. I never have been. I needed to resolve some issues and I continued on to graduate school to complete that. I would encourage others to sail around the world or to study Chinese history or whatever one needs to do. You need to develop and nurture a voice inside you that makes you special and unique.

The interchange between an object or a subject or a person with the world around it, how the natural light illuminates it, is one of the great gifts of being a photographer.
I want to show that there's a certain grace and elegance to the world. There's a sense of whimsy and humor. My pictures are basically an affirmation of this. I'm coproducing these pictures with the world around me. I think that most contemporary photography is very nihilistic and negative and kind of dispassionate, and everyone thinks it's so cool to be that way. Most art critiques applaud this as insightful and original. I think that's very misplaced. With my photography, I'm trying to affirm a giant "Yes!" to life.

You can see more of Rodney Smith's photography at www.rodneysmith.com.

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