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Richard Hamilton Smith lives a low-key life in Hubbard County, preferring his photographs speak for him. (Photo courtesy Dennis Nolan)

Park Rapids area man to have photo featured on postal stamp

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Richard Hamilton Smith's life path hung a looie in 1971 when his college roommate couldn't come up with the rent.

The pre-med student took his roommate's camera in trade for the rent money. A career was born the minute he picked up the gear.

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Medicine didn't challenge Smith's artistic side, he admitted. Photography did.

In October the U.S. Postal Service will unveil the second Smith photograph to appear on a stamp.

His aerial photo of a cherry orchard in Door County, Wis., will be one of 15 photographs issued next month as part of the "Earthscapes" stamp set.

The Hubbard County man is probably most well known locally for the photograph that graced Minnesota's sesquicentennial stamp, a river scene taken in Winona.

That 42-cent stamp commemorating Minnesota's 150th birthday is now part of history itself. The bridge featured closed shortly after the stamp was released in 2008 after a state inspection found corroding gusset plates.

Originally from Massachusetts, Smith moved to Hubbard County in 2000 from Minneapolis and lives with his wife on "a lovely little piece of lake property."

His dozens of professional clients include many big names in Minnesota: IBM, 3M and Honeywell. He's also shot photos for National Geographic, Smithsonian, Red Wing Boots and a multitude of other companies, including Nikon.

He uses Canon gear.

"I was putting together a coffee table picture book on the state of Wisconsin looking for a Wisconsin publisher and had hired a pilot and a plane and had gone over Door County," Smith said.

"I've been shooting professionally since 1978," he added, declining to pose for a photo, but agreeing under pressure to submit one. "I'm kind of a private guy. I like having my pictures out there and I like working on books and doing this and that and handling my advertising accounts but kind of prefer to be" in the background.

"I shoot a fair number of pictures for the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine, the little DNR publication," he said.

Subject matter doesn't limit his choices. "I like to shoot all kinds of things. I've got kind of an eclectic style."

A picture he took at Deane Park of the trumpeter swans that winter in Park Rapids was featured in one Volunteer publication.

A sunflower photo featured on his website is abstract, as are many of his images. He prefers color digital photos.

"I traveled extensively all over the world until 9/11," he said. "And then clients kind of cut back travel so I mostly travel around the U.S. now."

He can't pinpoint where you might have seen some of his more famous work.

"It probably was in a calendar," he says modestly. "I've had a number of my pictures in Minnesota calendars."

He's done a half-dozen coffee table books, countless calendars, advertisements, news photos and others.

He never states the location, which becomes part of the visionary lure.

He submitted the Winona pictures for the sesquicentennial in 2006 and "it took two years to winnow that down."

Joan Mondale made the final selection of the photo looking up the Mississippi River.

Gov. Pawlenty unveiled the image in May 2008.

Smith is a purist when it comes to his own work. He doesn't PhotoShop the images much.

If he's working for clients, their tastes dictate.

His self-portraits add to his mystique. They show the photographer without really revealing his persona. For 40 years he's been guided by serendipity and an eye for the magnificent while remaining an enigma.

To see his works, visit his website at www.richardhamiltonsmith.com

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