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Black Lives

Photographs by Beuford Smith

February–March 2017

01. Beuford Smith, Palm Sunday, ​1968. A woman seated on a crowded subway, hands crossed in her lap and eyes closed.
02. Beuford Smith, Angela Davis demonstration, Central Park, NY, ​1972. A crowd of protesters; two hold large signs with photos of Angela Davis.
03. Beuford Smith, Lower East Side, ​1968. A young seated couple; the young woman sits behind the young man with arms around his neck.
04. Beuford Smith, Sunday in Harlem, ​1968. Figures playing tambourines and a guitar on the street. Focus is on the lower left of the frame on the neck of a guitar and the player's left hand.
05. Beuford Smith, Paradise Soul, Brooklyn, ​1970. Detail of the window and door of a church marked by a sign: "Paradise Soul Saving Station for Every Nation"
06. Beuford Smith, Man with Roses, 125th Street, ​1972. Upper body portrait of a man facing the left of the frame holding a small bouquet of roses.
07. Beuford Smith, Woman & Flag, Harlem, ​1969. A small portion of a woman's face is seen from behind a large flag that hands above and in front of her.
08. Beuford Smith, Street Speaker, ​1968. A man's lower body fills the left of the frame with an American flat alongside it; pedestrians pass on the sidewalk to the right.
09. Beuford Smith, Flag Day, Harlem, ​1976. Detail of two windows of an apartment building; a woman leans out of the right window, an American flag hangs from the left.
10. Beuford Smith, Boy Holding Flag, ​1966. A young boy stands silhouetted beside a tree trunk, facing the street, a small Puerto Rican flag over his shoulder.
11. Beuford Smith, Coney Island, ​1979. Two figures photographed from above lay on a blanket on the sand, both have blankets covering their bodies as well.
12. Beuford Smith, Woman in Doorway, Harlem, ​1965. An older woman seated in a dark doorway, surrounded by signs such as "repatriation," "Malcolm X," "Black Man's God," etc.
13. Beuford Smith, Untitled, Lower East Side, ​1970. A man and woman sit on a folding chair and box on the sidewalk; two children stand behind them.
14. Beuford Smith, Sunday, Harlem Women, ​1966. A woman in white in profile as she walks towards the left of the frame.
15. Beuford Smith, NO and KEEP OFF, Harlem, ​1982. A building stoop with "No sitting" and "Keep off" written on alternating steps.
16. Beuford Smith, Malcolm X, Harlem, ​1964. Subject stands at a podium outdoors, speaking into microphones.
17. Beuford Smith, Brooklyn, NY, ​c. 1970. A young boy crouches on the street with chalk, writing the alphabet with each letter in a circle.
18. Beuford Smith, Boy & Doll, Lower East Side, NYC, ​1966. A young boy sits on the sidewalk with most of his body covered by some sort of cloth; a broken doll and other trash is on the street in front of him at the bottom of the frame.
19. Beuford Smith, Little Girl in Park, ​1968. Dark exposure of a young girl standing against a concrete wall with hands on her hips.
20. Beuford Smith, Playing 'Hide and Seek,' ​1968. A young boy stands against the corner of a run-down building.
21. Beuford Smith, Wall, Lower East Side, ​1972. A blurred, hunched silhouette moves across the frame towards the left against a wall covered in graffiti.
22. Beuford Smith, Boy in Street, Brooklyn, ​1969. A young boy stands on a wet street with hands on hips, looking to the left of the frame.
23. Beuford Smith, Untitled, ​c. 1970. Upper body of a boy photographed from behind. He wears a white t-shirt and has hands clasped behind his head.
24. Beuford Smith, Kids in Park, NYC, ​c. 1970. Three young girls and one boy lean against a wall with a mural and graffiti in speckled light.
25. Beuford Smith, Harlem Children, Easter Sunday, ​1965. Seven children lined up on a stoop; a smiling woman holding an umbrella stands in the lower left of the frame.
26. Beuford Smith, 7 Kids, Lower East Side, ​1965. A line of children standing against a dark brick wall.
27. Beuford Smith, Say Man, Harlem, ​1969. A car parked on the street that reads "Say Man" and "Bo Diddley and Company".
28. Beuford Smith, Three Girls, Bronx, ​1968. Three young girls in white sitting on a bench. One covers her mouth, one her eyes, the last covers on ear.
29. Beuford Smith, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, ​1970. A boy reaches into a puddle where the sidewalk meets the street.
30. Beuford Smith, Lower East Side, ​1969. Two boys blurred with motion, playing with toy guns.
31. Beuford Smith, I Have a Dream: The Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., April 5, 1968. Five photographs mounted on white board. Features a church, a man leaning against a mailbox, a line of police officers, a wreath with MLK's portrait in the center, and a woman wearing a pin with "Poor Peoples Campaign" and MLK's portrait on it.
32. Beuford Smith, I Have a Dream: The Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., April 5, 1968. Four photographs mounted on white board. Features a man being arrested, a young man crying, a man wearing a jacket that reads "Keep the faith, baby," and a figure silhouetted against clouds of smoke.
33. Beuford Smith, East 12th Street Park, NYC, (Boy on Swing), ​1968. Reflection of a silhouetted boy on a swing.
34. Beuford Smith, Pigeon & Self Portrait, ​1972. Shadow of the photographer against the ground with a dead pigeon.
35. Beuford Smith, Boy on Swing, Lower East Side, ​1970. Silhouetted figure in black on a swingset. The ground is covered in snow.
36. Beuford Smith, Boy with Umbrella, ​1973. A young boy holds a broken umbrella, with only wires remaining, above his head.
37. Beuford Smith, Two Bass Hit, Lower East Side, ​1972. Two silhouetted and blurred figures playing instruments.
38. Beuford Smith, Paul Chambers, John Coltrane, ​c. 1970. Dark exposure of two figures blurred with motion, playing instruments.
39. Beuford Smith, Reflection #1, Harlem, ​1965. Figures crouched, reaching into a large puddle on the street.
40. Beuford Smith, Get Air Force Experience, Harlem, ​1982. A sign that reads "Get Air Force experience. A great way of life." in front of cardboard cutouts of men and a young boy.

Press Release

Beuford Smith (American, b. 1941) is one of the great social documentary photographers that emerged from the 1960s. Founder of Cesaire Photo Agency and cofounder of the Black Photographer's Annual, Smith has enjoyed a diverse and celebrated career in image-making. His clients include Black Star, AT&T, Emory University, Merrill Lynch, Avon, and GE. He received a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in 1990 and 2000, a Light Work Artist-in-Residence Fellowship in 1999, and an Aaron Siskind Foundation Fellowship in 1998.

 

Smith was a founding member, and later served as president, of the group Kamoinge. In explaining this unprecedented organization, Smith said, "Kamoinge exists, as a forum of African-American photographers, to view and critique each other's work in an honest and understanding atmosphere, to nurture and challenge each other in order to attain the highest creative level. The name comes from the Kikuyu language of Kenya, and means a group of people acting together. Its aim is to seek out the truth inherent in our cultural roots, to create and communicate these truths with insight and integrity."

 

Smith was influenced by fellow Kamoinge members, particularly founding president Roy DeCarava. Of the two photographers, A.D. Coleman observed, "There is the same adherence to a head-on, gimmick-free documentary style, a concentration on urban black life as the central theme, and a consistent confrontation of human emotion." (New York Times, July 2, 1972).

In the organization's 2013 publication, Timeless, Smith said of his work, "I photograph as passionately and humanely as possible." Among Smith's work is an emotional set of photographs exploring the Black community's anguish the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Never shying away from deep shadows, Smith allows these figures especially to be enveloped by darkness. Another series conveys the energy of jazz musicians mid-performance, with the subjects often silhouetted and blurred by movement amidst dramatic lighting. The photographer often seems to be grappling with the ideas of patriotism and heritage as he features various flags in many of his street scenes.

 

Smith's photographs can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the New York Public Library, Princeton University, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and he has exhibited at such institutions as the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York University, Light Work Gallery, and the Tate Modern.

 

This exhibition will be on view at the Keith de Lellis Gallery through March 25, 2017.