Ming Smith’s Pioneering Excavations of Black Femininity

Yxta Maya Murray, The New Yorker, September 23, 2020

One day in the late nineteen-eighties, Ming Smith put on a snug, low-backed dress and a glittery necklace and posed, facing a mirror, against a wall papered with a lavish floral print. Her hair was loose and curly. She picked up her Canon and held it to her face as if it were a lover. She turned sideways and snapped a self-portrait, her eyes shining against the shadows of the room. Almost everything about her pose was calm and beautiful, like Alfred Stieglitz's intimate images of Georgia O'Keeffe, or Anne Brigman's delicate photographs of herself and other women. One major difference between this picture and those, besides the fact that Smith is Black, is how tightly she clutches the camera, one of her hands grabbing the Canon with such intensity that her fingers look almost like claws.

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