MoMA’s ongoing Projects: Ming Smith

The Museum of Modern Art announces Projects: Ming Smith, on view in the Museum’s street-level galleries from February 4 through May 29, 2023. A photographer who has lived and worked in New York since the 1970s, Ming Smith has served as a precedent for a generation of artists engaging in the politics and poetics of the photographic image. Through a deep exploration of the artist’s archive, the exhibition offers 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.

Projects: Ming Smith is organized by Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and Oluremi C. Onabanjo, Associate Curator, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art, with the assistance of Kaitlin Booher, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art, and Habiba Hopson, Curatorial Assistant, Permanent Collection, The Studio Museum in Harlem. 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.

About the Author

Harlem-based, Detroit-born, Ming Smith attended the famous Howard University, Washington, DC. Ming Smith first became a photographer when she was given a camera, and was the first female member to join Kamoinge, a collective of black photographers in New York in the 1960s, working to document black life. Smith would go on to be the first black woman photographer to be included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art.
Smith’s photography focused on black-and-white street photography, a format that she described as ‘you have to catch a moment that would never ever return again, and do it justice.’ Smith has often described her work as ‘celebrating the struggle, the survival and to find grace in it.’ Many of Smith’s subjects were well-known black cultural figures from Nina Simone, Grace Jones and Alice Coltrane: all from her neighbourhood. Smith has cited music as being a big influence in her work, specifically the genres of jazz and the blues. She has likened her work to the blues, saying, ‘in the art of photography, I’m dealing with light, I’m dealing with all these elements, getting that precise moment. Getting the feeling — to put it simply, these pieces are like the blues.’

A selfportrait of Ming Smith

As an artist, recognition for her work only came recently thanks to several high-profile exhibitions. Not limited to photography she also uses post production techniques, collage and paint to create her works. Smith was recently included in ‘Soul of a Nation’ at Tate Modern in collaboration with Brooklyn Museum, Crystal Bridges and The Broad. She was also featured in Brooklyn Museum’s ‘We Wanted A Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85.’ Smith’s work is in the collections of MoMA, the Whitney Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, Virginia Museum of Fine Art, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. She was included in MoMA’s 2010 seminal exhibition, ‘Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography’.

Projects: Ming Smith
from February 4 through May 29, 2023
Museum of Modern Art – New York

Paperback: 48 pages
Publisher: The Museum of Modern Art, New York (January 10, 2023)
Language: English
Size: 7.1 x 0.2 x 9 inches
Weight: 7.4 ounces
ISBN-10: 1633451402
ISBN-13: 978-1633451407

Log in with your credentials


Forgot your details?

Create Account