As a young model in New York, Ming Smith was drawn to photography and portraiture. Her friendship with photographer Anthony Barboza cultivated her artistic interests and she eventually became the first woman to join New York’s Kamoinge’s photography collective. In 1975 MoMA acquired one of her works making Smith the first Black woman photographer represented in the museum’s collection.
Her recognition dropped off precipitously after that-exhibitions and solo shows languished for nearly 40 years but her visibility became buoyed when the artist was featured in MoMA’s 2010 Exhibition called Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography.
The hazy, etherial quality of Smith’s photographs renders her subjects into otherworldly apparitions. Her ability to capture the fluidity of movement is subtly teased out in her editing process where she brings the viewer’s attention to small details through tinting, shadowing, and multiple exposures that alter the mood of the image.
Gordon Parks once remarked on Smith’s ability to conjure these surreal apparitions in her art: “the camera, with its special attention to detail, enables one to hold onto a lifetime full of ghosts that might otherwise crumble to dust. What the memory often holds is not exactly what the camera records… Wondrous imagery keeps cropping up, stuffing themselves into [Ms. Smith’s] sight. She grasps them and gives eternal life to things that might well have been forgotten.” NYT, January 11, 2017