Ming Smith at Nicola Vassell
Currently the subject of a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Ming Smith has several photographs on view in Nicola Vassell’s booth, all of which show the power of feminine energy that Smith has captured for some five decades. Smith was the only woman founding member of the Kamoinge Workshop, a collective of Black photographers formed in 1963 who, among other achievements, used innovative techniques to better photograph and print a variety of skin tones (photographic standards historically privileged white skin tones). Smith’s photographs on view showcase her—and Kamoinge’s—technical achievements, showing various levels of saturation.
Titled “The Things She Knows,” the booth includes blurred images and double exposures showing Tina Turner and Ed Love on the set for the music video to “What’s Love Got to Do With It” and Grace Jones at the Cinandre hair salon in Manhattan. Smith had moved to New York in the ’70s from Ohio to become a model, and came up together with Jones. It was posing for the camera that made her fall in love with photography and take up the lens herself. The most powerful work on view is a portrait of singer-songwriter Phyllis Hyman, hand-painted in blue; Smith painted it in 1995, shortly after learning that Hyman had died by suicide at 45.