Ming Smith: Invisible Man
Oluremi C. Onabanjo spotlights a single photograph by Ming Smith, celebrating her synesthetic range and acuity of vision
“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids, and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, simply because people refuse to see me.” These opening lines to Ralph Ellison’s epochal 1952 novel Invisible Man served as the inspiration for a photographic series that Ming Smith made from 1988 through 1991. One particularly poignant image from this series, rendered in monochrome, is a moody street scene. A sole figure occupies the center of the picture plane—head stooped, hands in pockets, striding down a snow-covered street. Illuminating the figure from behind, a line of street lights exposes the outer edges of legs and feet, while the torso and head encased in a bulky winter coat seem to blend into the shadow of a looming building. Invisible Man, Somewhere, Everywhere (1991) typifies Smith’s long-term engagement with the tensions that animate the African American experience. This latest volume in MoMA’s One on One series invites readers to perceive the subtle yet significant contributions of this Black woman photographer to the history of the medium.