How Ming Smith Achieved A Historic Feat

How Ming Smith Achieved Being The First Black Female Photographer To Have Her Work Bought By The Museum Of Modern Art In 1979

Ming Smith: Pioneering a Path into MoMA’s Collection

In 1979, Ming Smith made history as the first Black woman photographer to have her work acquired by the prestigious Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City.

This groundbreaking achievement marked a significant milestone in her artistic journey and paved the way for greater recognition of Black women’s contributions to the world of photography.

Defying Conventions, Embracing Creativity

From an early age, Smith displayed an innate curiosity and a unique perspective. “I didn’t care if I fit in,” she reminisced. “Photography was my sacred space.”

Rejecting conventional norms, she forged her own path, allowing her creativity to flourish without external constraints. Her approach to photography was unconventional, incorporating elements of asymmetry, imperfection, and an off-center viewpoint.

Smith’s work defied traditional techniques, reflecting her desire to create something truly beautiful outside the confines of established norms. “You can create outside of that and make something really beautiful,” she affirmed.

A Fortuitous Encounter with MoMA

In 1979, Smith seized an opportunity that would forever alter her artistic trajectory. Upon learning of an open call for submissions at MoMA, she confidently presented her portfolio. Despite initial skepticism from the receptionist, who mistook her for a messenger, her talent could not be denied.

John Szarkowski, the department of photography’s then chief curator, and Susan Kismaric, the assistant curator, recognized Smith’s exceptional talent and acquired two of her pieces.

This pivotal moment not only marked a personal triumph but also signified a shift in the art world’s recognition of Black women artists.

A Journey of Perseverance and Unwavering Vision

Smith’s path to success was paved with determination and an unwavering commitment to her artistic vision. Born in Detroit and raised in Columbus, Ohio, she drew inspiration from her grandparents’ reverence for everyday routines and their connection to nature.

Although initially skeptical of photography due to her father’s meticulous approach, Smith’s innate curiosity eventually led her to embrace the medium.

She honed her skills at Howard University, where she studied microbiology, and later in New York City, where she found her artistic circle in the Kamoinge Workshop, a Black photography collective.

Leaving an Indelible Mark

Over the decades, Smith’s work has continued to captivate and challenge audiences.

Her images, a fusion of kinetic street photography, introspective portraiture, and whimsical collage, capture the hidden moments that make up ordinary lives, rendering the extraordinary in the mundane.