About the Photographer
Smith, Henry Holmes
An innovative photographer and educator, Henry Holmes Smith used photography to explore the dynamics of color and light while helping to expand the critical discourse surrounding the medium through writing and teaching. Born in Bloomington, Indiana, Smith studied at State Normal College, Illinois, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before completing a BS at Ohio State University (1933). He had been interested in camera-less photography since the mid-1920s, and in the 1930s he was influenced by the work of László Moholy-Nagy, who pioneered techniques of making photograms in the darkroom using only light and objects. In 1937 Smith met Moholy-Nagy, who responded positively to his work and invited him to teach at the New Bauhaus (now IIT Institute of Design) in Chicago, where Smith taught until the school closed for relocation soon after 1938.
Building on Moholy-Nagy's black and white explorations of the phenomena of light, Smith experimented with the optical effects of color in his own work. In 1948 Smith began an ongoing series of dye transfer prints, in which he applied thick syrup onto a glass negative, using it to create various forms. Adding water to refract the light, he made an exposure using a 100-watt theatre spotlight, yielding vibrant images of globular, abstracted shapes often suggestive of figures. He typically gave the works metaphorical titles, such Giant or Mother and Son, emphasizing their expressive and imaginative potential. At the same time, however, the prints were intended to create a different kind of sensory experience: characterized by vivid, eye-catching hues, the photographs generate subtle chromatic effects as colors interact and bleed within the image. MoCP's collection includes four of Smith's dye transfer prints reproduced as offset lithographs in the Colors portfolio, a collection of forty offset lithographs created on the occasion of a 1975 exhibition. The Colors portfolio also included work by Eileen Cowin, John Craig, Darryl Curran, Betty Hahn, Robert Heinecken, Jim Henkel, Virgil M. Mirano, Bea Nettles, and Todd Walker.
Following his term at the New Bauhaus, Holmes served in the army during World War II. Afterwards, he worked as a freelance photographer and joined the faculty at Indiana University, where he taught for over thirty years from 1945 to 1977. As a professor, he had a significant influence on his students--many of whom went on to use alternative processes and unconventional methods--including Betty Hahn, Robert Fichter, and Jerry Uelsmann. In 1963 Smith co-founded the Society for Photographic Education, one of the most important professional organizations in higher education to this day. He died in San Rafael, California, in 1986.