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James Smolka

1964 - 2004


James Smolka was born in 1964 and raised in the small town
of St. Louis, Michigan.

He studied music theory and composition in Boston, MA. Though by his 4th year, he had gradually lost interest in pursuing any type of career involving music. He spent the next 6 years simply traveling and exploring with little intent, including 3 years living in Paris and traveling extensively throughout Europe.

Shortly after moving to NYC in 1992, he began to take an interest in photography and found an intern/assistant position that enabled him to quickly learn not only the mechanics of photography, but expose him to the business side of Editorial and Advertising photography. After a couple of years of assisting, James began shooting assignments and jobs on his own. Primarily Fashion editorials and portraits. Despite enjoying some success, he soon found himself frustrated by the repetitious content and predictable creative constraints of Fashion photography. After redirecting his focus and diversifying his Editorial work to include additional types of work, from business, Scientific, political, music, entertainment, Travel magazines….etc

In addition to portraits, the increase in commissioned travel to strange destinations enabled more opportunities for exploring personal work. From Landscapes, still-life’s, and a chance to document people not normally accessible within the lifestyle of the traditional NYC – LA fashion/celebrity photographer. Magazines have included Discover, Esquire, Details, Fortune, Dwell, Outside, Technology Review, Elle, New York Time Magazine. Assignments have taken him throughout every US state as well as overseas.

Though enjoying editorial work, increasing was spent on many of the advertising assignments for clients such as IBM, Nike, Gulf, Levi’s, Polaroid, Rolling Rock, ESPN, British Petroleum, Got Milk, Principal and Barneys NY. He has worked for Wieden+Kennedy, Ogilvy & Mather, Publicis, Bozell, Arnold, BBDO, Chiat/Day, Leo Burnett and McCann Erickson.

James work can be described as simple, graphic, bare. Mostly encountered while traveling, whether urban or remote landscapes, portraits, still lives, strange environments….the work all shares the same vision. A certain detachment, access, subtle beauty, and quiet humor. The subject matter is intentionally vague and usually leaves little clue to location, whether shot in a truckers hotel in the Alaskan Arctic or a suburban driveway in Australia

James died of pancreatic cancer in 2004 at the age of 39.

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