The word “evidence” has taken on juristic connotations, but it originally meant “obvious to the eye.” Nicola Vassell Gallery, whose inaugural exhibition bears that title, seeks to broaden the future of art by expanding its history. Ming Smith, the first woman to join Kamoinge, the famed Black photography collective, is the perfect subject to take up that mantle. “Evidence,” which brings together work from across Smith’s half-century career, showcases her incredible range, not only of subject—landscapes, portraits, protests—but also in craft.
The photographs on view range from painted prints of flamingos in Germany to shots of the cornfields of Ohio; from dreamlike compositions—the central figure of Circular Breathing (1980) is lighted by the penumbra of his lit cigarette—to a crisp and intense portrait of the French artist Brassaï. Smith, however, returns to a favored set of the themes, subjects, and techniques. Mirroring and parallels pervade: a pair of facing-off nuns in Nuns on the Square (August Wilson) (1991); a pair of older Black women, one of whom wields a fan printed with the image of a pair of young girls as well as a pair of golden retrievers in Amen Corner Sisters (Harlem, New York) (1976) [pictured]. And she relishes not only in the illuminating nature of photography but also the camera’s obscuring properties. A limb all but fades into another in the intimate and sensual Male Nude (New York) (1977), and Smith repeatedly returns to dark interiors intersected by light-flooded windows, as if captured the instant before one’s eyes adjust.
Ming Smith, Amen Corner Sisters (Harlem, New York), 1976. Archival pigment print, 36 x 24.25 inches.