Photo by Sam Moore

Marcia Smilack, A Reflectionist

To understand the art of Marcia Smilack, it helps to know that she is synesthetic – that is, she sees sounds, hears colors, and feels on her skin the textures she sees.

This unique artist/photographer, who calls herself a “Reflectionist,” uses her synesthesia to tell her when to snap the shutter as soon as she sees, hears, and feels sounds and textures in reflections on water. She thinks of the wind as the paintbrush, the surface of the water her canvas, and her camera the instrument by which she records her observations. She never manipulates a picture after taking it. The list of titles she wrote for her pictures reads like poetry.

But it isn’t necessary to know any of this to appreciate the breathtaking beauty and inventiveness of her astoundingly painterly photos. They speak for themselves.


For more, continue to read Greta Berman’s “Synesthesia: The Involuntary Joining of the Senses.”


Cello Music



Singing Arches



Man Leaning






Coterie of Circles



Scattered Halos



Muses and Halos



Bending Water



The Wonder of White



Bells of Kiev



The Bluest Eye from Bells of Kiev



Lavender Plus Gold Equals Bells from Bells of Kiev



Vibraphone Music



Pool Chairs





Photo by Sam Moore
Marcia Smilack grew up in Bexley, Ohio and attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison as an undergraduate. She received a Ph.D. in English from Brown University. She taught literature and writing in various colleges, including Brown, but the job market was difficult at that time. In 1988, she moved to Martha’s Vineyard, switched to writing full time, developed writer’s block and, having acquired her first camera, began to photograph harbor scenes. She shot red buoys when she heard the sound of a Siren – in other words, she was using her synesthesia (or as she says, “I shoot a picture when a hear a chord of color, which, for me, is not a metaphor, but the way I perceive the world"). Her first exhibition was held in 1993. Since that time, she has had many solo exhibitions, written many articles and become a professional speaker on her art. She explains, “while it appears that I am photographing the landscapes around me, the truth is, I am photographing my emotions.”


  1. What glorious images! I so wish your work can be collected and published in a book….I feel like a child again, seeing the world through new eyes.

    1. Linda, you have had insights into my work that go right over my head from the beginning. Your casual thoughts off the top of your head are regularly profound. I know of no one’s opinion I’d enjoy more (my parents are dead) because there is so much humanity and humor in your very being. Linda Harrar, by the way, is an amazing documentary film maker, producer, writer, director who has won so many awards I wouldn’t know where to start listing them but think environment, smart films, and voila! Linda Harrar. She’s well worth googling, I promise. Linda, thank you so much.

  2. Long time no see. This is absolutely wonderful Marcia. Your work is beautiful! Thanks for sharing this with me. Love it!

    1. I still owe you the portrait of you I took. Signed, as requested, of course. It’s one of my favorite portraits ever. And yes, thank you for your kind words about my art. I miss your point of view. Will contact you soon about delivering long-awaited image of you. Thanks for responding.

  3. Hi Marcia,
    Your work is just amazing as I ( and everyone who knows it!) has always said!
    I’l be sure to pass this on to Katherine and Chris,
    Who have “Cello Music” proudly hanging in their home!
    I love the way you have always been determined —- with your camera—to “ net” those ephemeral reflections, fleeting as a school of goldfish gliding by”

    1. Pat, such nice words! For other readers, Patricia Duffy is the author of the first book on Synesthesia written by a synesthete so outstanding in its overview and history of what is known about the “gift” it’s a must read classic titled “Blue Cats and Chartreuse Kittens”. Pat and I experience different forms as she is a grapheme synesthete which means that all her letters, e.g., have a unique color that that stays the same always (as did Vladimir Nabokov’s). If I’m in the mood to brag (forgive me) she wrote a chapter on my work at the onset of my burgeoning creation of the art form I call “painting by camera”. B/w, Pat — the beautiful fisherman metaphor still works but boy, I think my net has increased in size. Thanks again. Marcia

  4. Marcia, this is fantastic! I’m so impressed, also am moved by your striking images. Congratulations to you.

  5. After reading Greta’s intro and seeing your images I could actually feel my senses heightened. Wow….love it! Congratulations on your art. It brings a greater meaning to the word sensibilities. All the best to you, Dianne

    1. Forgive my having to ask this Jewish geography question but are you the same Dianne Kushner I grew up with in Bexley, Oh? Whether you are the original or a doppelganger with the same name, I am equally appreciative for your insightful comments. I especially enjoyed hearing how Greta, with her magic words, opened a door you chose to float through and become part of my images. Thanks so much for writing.

        1. I thought that was you! How wonderful to hear your voice. I admired you forever. b/w Diane was one of the really cool older girls by 2 years. I aspired to be like her but never even got close.

    2. Your comment has stayed with me since I read it on the 26th. So nice in an exchange when ideas and feelings get exchanged in the confluence of shared images.

      1. Cristia,
        I hope it was obvious I meant “I count on your rapture” (not “could”). I swear I used to be able to type as well as well better than to make such mistakes.

        1. Marcia,
          I read the comment above about someone’s senses being heightened after viewing your work. Yes, I agree with that too.

  6. I didn’t sufficiently thank Sue Leonard, editor and for me the one who quickly pulled all the pieces together, pleasant and easy to work with (as were they all) to produce such a lovely final product so I wish to thank her now. I was lucky to be interviewed by musician Gena Raps, who interviewed me and wrote the perfect intro, and Art Historian and Professor at Julliard, Greta Berman, who explained synesthesia better than anyone I know.

  7. Marcia, Your photos are so mesmerizing, painterly and beautiful. Wow! Thinking of you with a smile. xo Suzy

  8. Congratulations Marcia! I do so love your work. As a fellow Bexley High School graduating classmate & a fellow artist & photographer, I so appreciate Marcia’s unique eye & perspective of our beautiful world. Hope to see more of your work. Visiting Columbus soon, hope to see some more of your gems in the galleries…. Love you, Marcia! Peace & Blessings, Byron Yaple

    1. Gena,
      Thank you for your wise questions and encouragement. I love the you appreciate the titles as well as the images and you’re right, it does feel like poetry to me. You were so important in putting this article together, I cannot thank you enough.
      Marcia Smilack

          1. How beautifully worded, quite poetic. I’m obviously re-reading comments today and felt compelled to reply say thank you for your deep understanding of the process on multiple levels. You really get it.

    2. To Gena Raps, Thanks for making the article possible, asking discerning questions and being an intelligent interviewer with a good ear! Only you would hear the poetry at the same time you were looking at the images (I believe), given your musical gifts.
      I’m thrilled with how the piece turned out.

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