Historical Context

The dapper gentleman seen in the picture that accompanies this text was the in-demand photographer at NYC fashion shows and celebrity shoots, but Ray Smith (1905 -2004) straddled very different photography worlds. He built a career from high fashion glamour shots and product stills for ad campaigns during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Later, in Montauk, he pursued nature photography passionately, thanks to a house he had bought in the village in 1948. His vernacular photography, captured in images of fishermen, boat captains, and the day’s catch on the docks in Montauk’s harbor, also featured in his later photographic work.

Born in Astoria, Queens, Ray Smith’s childhood was unstable and peripatetic, and then, as an adult, he traveled constantly to support his work. Some ad campaigns for which he was the principal photographer took him across the country (Ex Lax was a particularly lucrative client.) When Ray Smith came to Montauk in the 1940s, he fell in love with its vast beaches and wide-open spaces. Finally, he had found a place where he could settle down.

In 1975 Ray was 70 years old, but he continued working as a photographer, often walking the docks in Montauk and snapping pictures of fish and anglers. He was hired by the East Hampton Star to cover social and civic events in Montauk, such as Chamber of Commerce meetings, school plays, and church suppers. It’s difficult to open up a Star from the late 1970s and not find a Ray Smith byline underneath an image.

For all the fashion photos and group shots in his portfolio, however, Ray believed his best work could be found in his photographs of nature. He confided to a good Montauk friend that the photograph he snapped of a sled leaning against a tree during a snowstorm was, in his opinion, one of his very best pictures. Its New Year’s Day appearance on the front page of the East Hampton Star in 1975 was a source of great pride for Ray Smith.

Scope of Collection

Ray Smith moved to Montauk in 1948. Most of the photographs in this collection were taken at meetings and clubs in Montauk, or on assignment for the East Hampton Star. The majority were taken in the 1960s and 70s, and document the gallery of Montauk faces that Ray Smith and readers of the East Hampton Star came to know so well.