The work of photographer Rodney Smith is frequently described as surreal, which is funny, because Smith, who died in 2016 at 68, used no filters, retouching, or postproduction trickery of any kind. His pictures come by their surreality honestly.
The son of a domineering fashion executive, Smith rebelled by earning a master’s of divinity from Yale. But he kept one foot in this world, minoring in photography under Walker Evans, who was then a professor at the school. Beginning in the 1980s, Smith found success in advertising—his blue-chip clients included Heinz and Northrop—and fashion, both editorial (Vanity Fair, W, New York) and commercial (Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Ralph Lauren). Yet his photographs are utterly uncontemporary, even when they feature on-duty yellow cabs and rented billboards.