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FLAMINGO FANDANGO (WEST BERLIN) (PAINTED), 1988 Ming Smith Honfrps Low Res

How Ming Smith fuses documentary and art

The veteran photographer and RPS Honorary Fellow explains how two media collide in her work

‘Flamingo fandango (West Berlin), painted, 1988’

 

New York-based photographer Ming Smith came to prominence in the 1970s. The first African American female photographer to have work acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, Smith was also a member of the renowned Kamoinge Workshop, a collective of Black photographers founded in 1963.  

Now the artist, who features in the November/December issue of the RPS Journal, is receiving new recognition for her powerful photographs that depict the lives of African Americans and Black culture. 

Using light, shadow, movement and blur to create her visually poetic, improvisatory black and white images, Smith, who has been awarded an RPS Honorary Fellowship, also occasionally uses paint in her work.  

From early in her artistic career, Smith would sometimes apply oil paints to areas of her photographs to add colour. She points to ’My father’s tears (San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, 1977)’ (below) as an example. Parts of the photograph, which shows a church sculpture of Mary Magdalene dressed as a nun at the foot of the cross, are subtly accentuated by carefully applied daubs of paint.  

“Sometimes I did a lot of paint, sometimes just a little bit,” says Smith. “The form or the photograph would remain the same.” 

Another example Smith cites is ‘Flamingo fandango (West Berlin), painted, 1988’ (above), where she applied paint to the flamingos, enhancing the photograph’s ethereal atmosphere.  

“The image was the springboard,” she adds. “It was like a piece of canvas. I just let it go where it would go. I would follow my instincts.” 

MY FATHER's TEARS (SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, MEXICO), 1977 Ming Smith Honfrps Low Res

’My father’s tears (San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, 1977)’

Read more about Ming Smith HonFRPS in a special issue of the RPS Journal celebrating the 2022 RPS Awards.

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