Ming Smith was the first female member of the influential photography collective Kamoinge, whose members included Roy DeCarava.  A core principle of Kamoinge was to document black life, as well as push back against the limited racial views that had been propagated by white photographers. Smith combined social purpose and commentary with mysterious, ethereal quality. Gordon Parks wrote of the transcendent quality of Smith’s work, stating her “wonderous imagery… gives eternal life to things that might well have been forgotten.”


Smith has cited music as being a big influence in her work, specifically the genres of jazz and the blues, and Nina Simone’s. She has likened her work to the blues, saying, “In the art of photography, I’m dealing with light, I’m dealing with all these elements, getting that precise moment. Getting the feeling, getting the way the light hits the person — to put it simply, these pieces are like the blues.” Smith is known for the ethereal quality of her photographs created through complex processes. Her shooting style often results in out-of-focus images in which the finer details of figure and background are obscured. This deliberate blurriness creates a half-abstract effect, which lends her work an instantly recognizable and utterly unique dream-like feeling. This magical quality is amplified in some cases by Smith’s experimental post-production techniques including double exposed prints, collage, and painting on prints.

Smith is the first Black woman photographer to be included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art. Smith is currently included in “Soul of a Nation” organized by Tate Modern in collaboration with Brooklyn Museum, Crystal Bridges and The Broad. Recently she was featured in Brooklyn Museum’s “We Wanted A Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85.” Her work is in the collections of MoMA, the Whitney Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, Virginia Museum of Fine Art, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the National Museum of African-American History and Culture.  She was included in MoMA’s 2010 groundbreaking exhibition, “Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography.”