An Eminent Fine Arts Photographer Embraces the Leica S2 System

Ian Macdonald-Smith grew up in Bermuda and still makes his home in that storied multicultural paradise. However he has spent the best part of the past two decades venturing far and wide to create extraordinarily powerful fine arts images that capture the essence of the iconic locations he has documented. Many of them are ingenious abstract studies that embody the emotional content as well as the geographical contexts of their varied locales in a way that literal imagery cannot approach. Indeed, Macdonald-Smith is an artist that continually pushes the limits of the photographic medium and his success in doing so has resulted in his work appearing in group and solo exhibitions in New York, Chicago, and Bermuda, being published in numerous magazines and books, and included in the collections of leading Bermuda and international corporations. Recently he has been shooting with the Leica S2, an ultra-high-performance medium format camera with the handling characteristics of a 35mm-based DSLR. Here, in his own words, is the incredible, still-unfolding story of his voyage of self-discovery.

“I first became interested in photography as a teenager, and I was always taking pictures. At age 18 I was working in a hotel in Bermuda to fund my college education and became friendly with the in-house photographer who taught me the Rule of Thirds for picture composition. Over the next few years I was having a modicum of success selling prints and I began to realize I had nothing to lose. It was on my 23rd birthday that I chose to become a professional photographer. I had no formal photographic education, but I was very fortunate to have had superb mentors. The first was Graeme Outerbridge, an internationally renowned fine art photographer and fellow Bermudian. Then came Mark Emmerson, another fine art photographer who produces fabulous platinum prints. Both of their styles influenced me and their advice and encouragement were invaluable. The great UK photographer Snaders Nicholson was also very supportive and I was shortlisted to become his assistant, but I am now thankful that I didn’t quite have the technical skills he was looking for.”

“Of course I continue to be influenced by the work of many great photographers—Henri Cartier-Bresson for reportage, and Sam Abell for fine art photography to name two. I have also been fortunate enough to meet such greats as Steve McCurry, Eddie Adams, Jay Maisel, Stephen Wilkes, Art Wolfe, and Rick Sammon and I’ve benefitted hugely from their insights. As an artist I would define my mission with one word: sharing. My goal is to open people’s eyes beyond looking and get them to start seeing—there’s a profound critical distinction between these two words.”

“Personally, I want to feel the wonder of the cognitive while at the same time growing myself, as a human being and as an artist. I want to celebrate the glories of this planet, how amazing it is and how fleeting it is. I am a huge environmentalist, and I am deeply concerned about how we are despoiling our planet and squandering its resources. Anything I can do to make people say ‘wow—that’s amazing’, the sharing of wonder, is another facet that will put them in the right ecological frame of mind. I also see myself on an historical context, trying to advance the ‘art’ of photography. I’ve been influenced by the abstract expressionism, impressionism, and the cubism and I’ve tried to apply these sensibilities to my photography. Trying to blur the distinction between painting and photography is another one of my primary goals. I relish the challenge of creating new series of images that are unique and avant-garde, and I heartily disagree with those who say there is nothing new in art.”

“I was particularly fortunate to be one of the first in my photographic genre to savor the delights of the Leica S2 system. It’s the perfect system for perfectionists like me and it’s the ideal instrument for art and travel photography. Having a camera that combines of astonishing image quality of a 37-megapixel sensor, the superb performance of Leica lenses, and handling on a par with a 35mm-based pro DSLR is simply an incredibly fulfilling shooting experience.”

-Jason Schneider

In the concluding part 2 of this series Ian Macdonald-Smith will reveal more fascinating details about his unlikely career and describe what it’s really like to shoot with the state-of-the-art Leica S2 system. To see more photos by Ian Macdonald-Smith  visit his website