By Maurice Berger
It is the often oblique details in Ming Smith’s photographs that provide their most profound meaning. Consider the eerie photograph of a person walking on a Harlem street, a blur moving across the image’s surface. The street is urban and depressed; graffiti mars steel gates and a portentous crucifix-like shadow rakes across the cold pavement. But other details imbue the picture with additional levels of meaning and irony: a set of grinning faces on a doorway and the words “no money” that run across the top of the picture.
The image reminds us that the urban landscape is neither singular nor without contradiction. It affirms that sadness coexists with humor, that poverty is mitigated by culture and ideas, and that the absence of money cannot define a community.
This photograph appears in the first major retrospective of Ms. Smith’s work, which opens on Friday at the Steven Kasher Gallery in New York. The exhibition, featuring more than 75 vintage black and white photographs from the 1970s to the present, offers a significant opportunity to appraise the work of a less-known but important and aesthetically adventurous artist.