Ming Smith MoMA – Museum of Modern Art / New York

May 1, 2023

For Ming Smith, photography is where the senses and the spirit collide through the prism of light, a process she has compared to “getting that precise moment…getting the feeling…like the blues.”

“Projects: Ming Smith” at MoMA offers a critical reintroduction to a photographer who has been living and working in New York since the 1970s. Smith has served as a precedent for a generation of artists engaging the politics and poetics of the photographic image. Through a deep exploration of the artist’s archive, the exhibition will offer a critical reintroduction to Smith’s work through her distinctive approach to movement, light, rhythm, and shadow, highlighting how she transforms the image from a document of photographic capture into a space of emotive expression.

As Oluremi C. Onabanjo states, “For Ming Smith, the photographic medium is a site where the senses and the spirit collide. Calling attention to the synesthetic range of her photographic approach, this exhibition highlights how her images collapse the senses, encouraging us to attend to the hue of sound, the rhythm of form, and the texture of vision.” Works featured in the exhibition showcase a wide array of subjects, ranging from finely attuned studies of Black avant-garde musicians and dancers to depictions of everyday life in Harlem and Pittsburgh’s Hill District through photographic series made in response to Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man and August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle of plays.

“Projects: Ming Smith” is the fourth exhibition in MoMA’s ongoing Projects collaboration with The Studio Museum in Harlem. It takes up the work of a photographer who is important to the history of both museums. MoMA was the first institution to acquire Smith’s work (in 1979), and the Studio Museum has shown Smith’s work since the beginning of her career, when she was the first female member of the trailblazing Black photography collective the Kamoinge Workshop.

Thelma Golden says, “Almost from the day she arrived in New York City, Ming Smith was at the center of an extraordinary cultural ferment, contributing to the Black Arts Movement while creating a space for herself within Harlem’s legendary Kamoinge Workshop. Working for over five decades, her contribution to modern photography is deeply significant — she continues to influence countless photographers through her singular documentation of, society’s humanity and pageantry. I’m thrilled that audiences who know her work will have the opportunity to revisit and reappraise her many achievements, and that new audiences will have the excitement of discovering her graceful, stunning images through “Projects: Ming Smith.”

“Projects: Ming Smith” is accompanied by Ming Smith: Invisible Man, Somewhere, Everywhere, a new volume in MoMA’s One on One series, written by Oluremi C. Onabanjo. The book provides a sustained meditation on Smith’s photograph Invisible Man, Somewhere, Everywhere (1991) in MoMA’s collection.


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