Issue #246  12/17/2018
Photographer, Publisher and Teacher Michael A. Smith Passes Away

By Alex Novak

Michael A. Smith
Michael A. Smith

Photographer, publisher and teacher Michael A. Smith has passed away. He had suffered a stroke about a year ago, but was progressing with physical therapy.

A long-time Bucks County, Pennsylvania resident, Smith was born in Philadelphia in 1942. He had been working full time in photography since 1966. Less than a year later, in 1967, he began photographing with an 8x10-inch view camera, committing himself largely to the contact print. Later he added both an 8x20 and an 18x22-inch view camera.

His photographic journeys took him to every state in the continental United States, western Canada, Mexico, Australia, Iceland and Europe. The results of these remarkable odysseys are included in the permanent collections of over 125 museums in the United States, Europe, and Asia, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Art Institute of Chicago, Bibliotheque Nationale, Stedelijk Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. He taught photo workshops in photography in the United States, Austria, Germany, Tuscany, Iceland. Australia, France, New Zealand and Romania.

His commitment to the medium resulted in over 200 exhibitions. In addition, he twice received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and he had been the recipient of major commissions to photograph five American cities. In 1981, Smith's first book, the two-volume monograph, Landscapes 1975-1979, was awarded Le Grand Prix du Livre at the Rencontres Internationale de la Photographie in Arles, France. At that time, the Swiss publication Print Letter said, "For the first time in the 11 years of the Rencontres, a deserving book has won the book prize."

In 1992, Smith was honored with a 25-year retrospective exhibition at the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House. To mark the occasion, "Michael A. Smith: A Visual Journey--Photographs from Twenty-Five Years" was published.

His first book of portraits, "The Students of Deep Springs College," was published in the fall of 2000. His next book, "Tuscany: Wandering the Back Roads--Volume II" was published in the fall of 2004.

In 2008 he was commissioned to photograph Chicago, and a book of his Chicago photographs was published in fall of 2009.

He more recently worked on a series of landscape photographs from Iceland and a series of portraits and interviews with inmates in Sheriff Joe's Maricopa County Jail in Phoenix."

He co-founded Lodima Press with his wife and fellow artist Paula Chamlee.

As the email announcing his passing noted, "Michael's passion for making, promoting, and teaching photography remained sincere and strong throughout his more than 50-year career as a leading figure in fine-art photography. As a result, Michael was known internationally as a brilliant photographer and as an extraordinary teacher, theorist, critic, and publisher. No matter which hat he wore at any given time, Michael never tired of giving his time, knowledge, and passion to the visual arts.

"Moreover, Michael always dreamed big. His greatest dream (indeed, his ultimate dream) was to continue giving back to the world of photography--a world that had given him so much success, sense of purpose, and simple joy. In particular, Michael wanted to give back by fostering scholarship, organizing exhibitions, and advocating appreciation, not only in photography but also to allied areas of the visual arts.

"Before his passing and, most movingly, since then, many people around the world who knew Michael, his work, and his mission have asked what they can do to make the dream come true. If you feel motivated to contribute to that essential effort, please make a donation to Arts of Our Time, the not-for-profit organization that Michael founded in 2003, at: https://www.artsofourtime.org/donate/ . By contributing, you will enable Paula Chamlee, his wife, partner in the arts, and AOT co-founder, to honor Michael's memory, ensure his legacy, and keep his dream alive for the benefit of future generations of visual artists as well as for the many people who care deeply about the arts."

A memorial service is being planned at the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, PA, to celebrate his life and work. The date is yet to be determined, but will take place sometime after the holidays.

I should note that I've known my neighbors and good friends, Michael and Paula, for nearly two decades and even briefly represented them. I had dinner with the pair just a couple of months ago.

Michael's passing is truly both a personal loss felt and another absence in photography that will reverberate for a long time. Michael's personality could at times be thorny, but if you had the least patience, you'd find the rose under that artist-tough exterior, and the love, talent and ideas that blossomed within. He will be another important friend that I will miss. My best and hugs to Paula.

Novak has over 45 years experience in the photography-collecting arena. He is a long-time member and formally board member of the Daguerreian Society, and, when it was still functioning, he was a member of the American Historical Photographic Society. He organized the 2016 19th-century Photography Show and Conference for the Daguerreian Society. He is also a long-time member of the Association of International Photography Art Dealers. Novak has been a member of the board of the nonprofit Photo Review, which publishes both the Photo Review and the Photograph Collector, and is currently on the Photo Review's advisory board. He was a founding member of the Getty Museum Photography Council. He is author of French 19th-Century Master Photographers: Life into Art.

Novak has had photography articles and columns published in several newspapers, the American Photographic Historical Society newsletter, the Photograph Collector and the Daguerreian Society newsletter. He writes and publishes the E-Photo Newsletter, the largest circulation newsletter in the field. Novak is also president and owner of Contemporary Works/Vintage Works, a private photography dealer, which sells by appointment and at exhibit shows, such as AIPAD New York and Miami, Art Chicago, Classic Photography LA, Photo LA, Paris Photo, The 19th-century Photography Show, etc.