Henry Holmes Smith
Henry Holmes Smith (1909, Bloomington, Illinois–1986) was an American photographer and one of the most influential fine art photography teachers of the mid 20th century. He was inspired by the work that had been done at the German Bauhaus and in 1937 was invited to teach photography at the New Bauhaus being founded by Moholy-Nagy in Chicago. After World War II, he spent many years teaching at Indiana University. His students included Jerry Uelsmann, Jack Welpott, Robert W. Fichter, and Betty Hahn.
Smith was often involved in the cutting edge of photographic techniques: in 1931 he started experimenting with high-speed flash photography of action subjects, and started doing color work in 1936 when few people considered it a serious artistic medium. His later images were nearly all abstract, often made directly (without a camera, i.e. like photograms), for instance images created by refracting light through splashes of water and corn syrup on a glass plate. However, although acclaimed as a photographic teacher, Holmes' own photographs and other images did not achieve any real recognition from his peers.
At the end of his career, Smith questioned the value of photographic education, noting that unlike, say, a medical degree, a degree in the fine arts didn't lead to some useful role in society.
- "Somebody said recently that the best thing a student could do was to get in some shows and publish a book, but nothing about becoming a human being, nothing about having important feelings or concepts of humanity. That’s the sort of thing that is bad education. I’d say be a human being first and if you happen to wind up using photography, that’s good for photography."
- "People are competing to win at a game that is a loser's game. The game is to have better routine images than someone else's routine images. If you want a prescription for routine images, you just have to go through any student's portfolio."
Much of the information in this article is based on an interview with Smith in Dialogue with Photography by Paul Hill and Thomas Cooper (Thames & Hudson, 1979), 132–159.