Frieze Los Angeles: Ming Smith: The Things She Knows

16 - 19 February 2023 

From this omniscient vantage point, Smith photographed the choreographer andanthropologist Katherine Dunham at a dance workshop she led in St. Louis; Judith Jamison at the height of her career with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; Grace Jones at the Cinandre hair salon before her rise to fame; a young Phyllis Hyman working backstage as a makeup artist; Tina Turner behind the scenes of her iconic music video, What’s Love Got To Do With It? with the choreographer Ed Love; and a phantasmagoric Alicia Keys glimmering in themouth of a grand hall in 2021. Even for those subjects who were strangers to the artist—such as in the photograph Instant Model—Smith reveals an immortal feminine force irrespective of celebrity. She reflects, “I was always interested in the beauty of Black people regardless of who they are or what status they have. Beauty is beauty. Character is character.


At the root of Smith’s work is the desire to use photography as a means of opening new worlds for herself and her audience—whether communicating through the lens of music, dance, spirituality, or diaspora. Smith conveys these themes by way of various photographic techniques including blurred focus, experimental exposure, and painting treatments. No where is her ethos more clear than in Womb, Cairo a photograph in which her sons—poised in martial arts positions before the Great Sphinx and pyramids of Giza—are caringly encircled by the perimeter of their mother’s self-portrait–an accidental double exposure the artist describes as god-sent. 


Smith’s photographs map an intricate constellation linking the human experience to the universe as a well-ordered whole; simultaneously raw, earthly, and divine. From her initiation as a member of the Kamoinge Group—a collective dedicated to representing the history and culture of the African Diaspora through the lens of Black photographers—to the debut of her first solo exhibition at MoMA earlier this month—where she was the first Black woman to be included in the museum’s collection—her work is always born from the intimate relationships and connections formed over the course of her life, offering a personal and indelible legacy to the history of photography.


Ming Smith was the subject of the inaugural exhibition at Nicola Vassell Gallery in 2021. Her forthcoming solo exhibition at MoMA, Projects: Ming Smith, presented in partnership with the Studio Museum in Harlem, will be on view from February 4 through May 29, 2023.