Getty Museum acquires ten Rodney Smith photographs

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Getty Museum acquires ten Rodney Smith photographs
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LOS ANGELES, CA.- In commemoration of the fifth anniversary of Photographer Rodney Smith’s passing, the artist’s estate announces the accession of ten of Smith’s prints into the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California. This significant group of works includes many of his most iconic images. The works were chosen by Paul Martineau, the Museum’s Curator of Photographs.

A prominent image-maker, Rodney Smith’s whimsical work invites comparison to that of surrealist painter Rene Magritte. Long acclaimed for his iconic black and white images that combine portraiture and landscape, Smith created enchanted worlds full of subtle contradictions and surprises. Using only film and light, his unretouched, dream-like images are matched in quality by the craft and physical beauty of his prints. He was a creator who cared deeply about sharing his vision of the world with humor, grace, and optimism.

“Over the course of a successful career that lasted more than 45 years, Rodney Smith developed a unique photographic vision. In each of his carefully-crafted compositions, he banishes the chaos of modern life for another that is grounded in a romantic view of the past. Like Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, he asks us to follow him 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,” says Paul Martineau, Curator of Photographs, J. Paul Getty Museum. “It’s my distinct pleasure to have helped with the Museum's acquisition of ten of his photographs and look forward to continuing to shine a light on his simultaneously stunning yet skillful images."

The ten works acquired by the Getty Museum include:

● Saori on Sea Plane Wing, Dominican Republic, 2010
● Edythe and Andrew Kissing on Top of Taxis, New York, New York, 2008
● Self-portrait with Leslie, Siena, Italy, 1990
● Polaroid Self-Portrait, Schoenbrunn Palace, Vienna, Austria, 2010
● Three Men With Shears No. 1, Reims, France, 1997
● Bernadette Twirling, Burden Mansion, New York City, 2007
● Question Mark Picture, Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania, 2008
● Twins in Tree, Snedens Landing, New York, 1999
● Don Jumping over Hay Roll No. 1, Monkton, Maryland, 1999
● Reed Leaping Over Rooftop, New York, New York, 2008

“Rodney’s technical mastery allowed him to be spontaneous and react in the moment, making images that feel both real and surreal at the same time. His work continues to inspire the worlds of art, fashion and culture today,” says Leslie Smolan, Smith's widow and executive director of his estate. “We are thrilled that Rodney's legacy is being acknowledged in this way, and that his work is now a part of the J.Paul Getty Museum’s esteemed photography collection.”

The acquisition and fifth anniversary of his death are also being commemorated by The Rodney Smith Estate with a series of virtual discussions centered on the photographer's work.

Rodney Lewis Smith (1947–2016) was born in New York City. He found his artistic inspiration while visiting the permanent collection of photography at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) during his junior year in college. After graduating from the University of Virginia in 1970, he went on to earn a Master’s degree in theology from Yale University, while minoring in photography under Walker Evans. Smith was looking for meaning in his life, and photography provided a way for him to express himself.
In 1976, he was awarded a Jerusalem Foundation Fellowship, which resulted in his first book, In The Land of Light. This three-month fellowship changed him profoundly, as he found nobility in a diverse mix of cultures and religions in the Middle East, where many people lived an 18th century existence in a 20th century world.

Having found his niche, Smith traveled throughout the American South, Haiti, and Wales, making soul-searching portraits of workers and farmers, as well as capturing the magnificence of the landscape.

Influenced by the teaching and technical precision of Ansel Adams, Smith sought to perfect his own technique, narrowing his choice of camera, film, exposure, developer, and paper. He used light to edit and reveal his subjects, rendering them in a broad spectrum of tones, ranging from crisp white highlights to deep velvety shadows. Smith’s signature style emerged, making the world appear sharper and clearer, bringing order to chaos.

In addition to the J. Paul Getty Museum’s collection, Smith’s work is included in Houston Museum of Fine Arts (Houston, TX); Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, MA); Philadelphia Museum of Art (Philadelphia, PA); Bayley Museum, University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA); Museum of Art, Brigham Young University (Salt Lake City, UT); Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University (Waltham, MA); National September 11th Memorial & Museum (New York, NY); and Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, CT).

The Rodney Smith Archive provides access to and promotes further understanding of the artistic legacy of Rodney Smith. The Estate is the largest repository of Smith’s work. Its holdings include Smith’s photography collection and archive comprising final works, photographic and biographical materials, writings, studio equipment, and library. In addition to housing Smith’s studio, collection, and archive, the house and gardens — designed by Smith and prominently featured in many of his photographs — provide an additional lens in which to contextualize his life and work. The Estate offers researchers, students, and scholars the opportunity to study primary and secondary sources related to Smith’s photography practice.

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