Pioneer photographer Ming Smith is now represented by Nicola Vassell Gallery
TWO POWERFUL AND INNOVATIVE WOMEN join forces. Nicola Vassell Gallery in New York announced the performance of Ming Smith Friday. Smith joins the Black-owned gallery after establishing a revolutionary photography practice over the past 50 years.
In May, Vassell opened his gallery with a solo exhibition of the Harlem-based artist. “Ming Smith: Testimonies” probed his career. The introduction to the exhibition described the works on display and also reflected the scope of his wider production: “The assembled images illustrate the artist’s keen and enduring eye and his use of the photographic medium to represent charged atmospheres and surrealist states with landscapes, blurred silhouettes, dynamic street scenes and revered cultural figures… ”
MING SMITH, “America Seen Through Stars and Stripes (New York)”, 1976 (archival pigment print, 40 x 60 inches). | © Ming Smith
Smith was born in Detroit, raised in Columbus, Ohio, graduated from Howard University in Washington, DC, and made her career in New York City. She is best known for being the first female member of Atelier Kamoinge. Louis Draper helped found the New York collective of black photographers in 1963, and Roy DeCarava was the group’s first director. Smith joined Kamoinge in 1972. In 1979, she became the first black woman to have her work acquired by the Museum of Modern Art.
What sets Smith apart in the field are the experimental techniques she uses with her camera and hand to achieve painterly and artistically blurry images, including slow shutter speeds, double exposure, painting, dyeing. and collage.
Two major traveling museum exhibitions recently presented his work. Smith was among the artists featured in “Working together: the photographers of the Kamoinge studio” and “The Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.”
A few years ago, Arthur Jafa included Smith in “A series of completely improbable, but extraordinary renderings”, his exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries in London. Speaking of the series, he praised Smith’s singular talent.
“Ming Smith is in my opinion the greatest African American photographer of all time,” Jafa said. “What she has been able to do in her ability to create both vagueness and precision and definition is unprecedented.”
“Ming Smith is in my opinion the greatest African American photographer of all time.” -Arthur Jafa
MING SMITH, “Self-portrait”, 1972, pasted circa 1990’s, reprinted 2019, painted 2019 (pigment print and archival oil, edition of 10, each hand painted and unique, 24 x 18 inches). | © Ming Smith
Smith’s very first monograph was published last fall by Aperture. The highly anticipated volume offers a full account of his life and practice through essays and images. Plus two conversations with Smith led by Janet Hill Talbert and Hans Ulrich Obrist, and a dialogue between Arthur Jafa and Greg Tate on the “presence of music and sound” in Smith’s work, further enlighten the artist.
A major retrospective of Smith is planned at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston. In June, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts announced its Spring 2021 grant recipients, including CAM Houston. The institution received $ 40,000 to help support “Ming Smith: Feeling the Future”.
The spring 2021 edition of Quarterly Gagosian featured a conversation between Smith and Vassell. The artist and gallery owner covered a lot of ground, including the fact that Smith’s father was a photographer and that she took her first photographs with her mother’s camera. She borrowed it for a school trip in fifth grade.
They also discussed Kamoinge, jazz, energy and silence, the relationship between dance and photography, and “August Moon”, his 1991 series which pays homage to playwright August Wilson (1945-2005) . Asked about the artists who inspired her, Smith named Katherine Dunham, Brassaï (“It’s my favorite,” she said.), Imogen Cunningham (Diane Arbus teacher), Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett and Gordon Parks.
During the conversation, Vassell also asked Smith how she characterized her work by photographing like a painter and using light to paint.
“I am aware of how things look in the light, but it all happens in an instant. It’s the gift, the talent of the photographer: the ability to compose by following your instincts, ”said Smith.
“Also, the power of anticipation and the patience to wait for what is to come. It’s like a basketball player hitting three points: practice, repeat, practice, repeat. You are improving yourself, and you will miss some more. In photography, you have to nail it when it is in the lens. Take the photo when you see it. CT
FIND OUT MORE The exhibition “Jordan x Ming Smith: here for a reason” featuring Michael Jordan and members of his brand Jordan’s WNBA roster opened at the Nicola Vassell Gallery in late June
“Ming Smith”, the photographer’s first monograph was published last November. Ming Smith is also represented in the exhibition catalogs “Working together: the photographers of the Kamoinge studio” and “The Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.”
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