The exhibition "In Time We Shall Know Ourselves," showcasing 52 of the photos Smith took in the summer of 1974, continues through
The exhibition, organized by the MMFA, follows the publication of Smith's new book of the same title, part of publisher
Smith was a
He set out with an eye toward doing for the 1970s what Frank had done for the 1950s, hitting the road with a friend from New Haven in a run-down
"Every photograph was an experience, because I was limited in how much money I had," Smith said, "so whenever I photographed a person it was usually the only photograph I took of that person. I had so much emotionally invested in it, but financially I was at this point -- if I knew I got the picture, that was it.
"I always stepped back and waited until that person was ready. I didn't want them reacting to me or mugging or posing. I wanted that sense of self."
The VW finally died in the Midwest and, with his journey cut short, Smith took a train back to New Haven. But in three months he had traversed more than half the country, mostly in the South, returning with about 750 shots, nearly all of them one-takes of his subjects.
Perhaps oddly, even as a younger man Smith knew it would take a while for the book and exhibition to come together. That it may take decades, even. But it was going to be something worth the wait.
"I knew I had to go back to school in the fall, so I spent that whole summer photographing, and I knew within a week I had something," Smith said at a recent reception at MMFA. "I knew that if it was published -- if it was 30, 40 years later -- I knew someday it would happen. And here it is.
"There were so many things going on in photography at that time," he said of the mid-'70s. "It was kind of a watershed period -- all the great photographers were still alive and working, and there were all these new photographers coming up -- but I knew that there was something more to my work, that it would last. And if it lasted, if it looked as good to me 30 years from then, yes, it would happen. I never doubted that."
He had no way of knowing that the digital onslaught to come would render his work even more momentous.
In the intervening years, he's been the proprietor of R.W. Smith Bookseller in New Haven, which specializes in rare and out-of-print reference material on American art and photography. But that summer trip he took as a young man has never left his mind, and to this day he's kept the diary of that journey, documenting every photograph he took and the names of the people in them.
Also jotted down in the diary are the words he read one day on a hand-painted roadside sign in
"It said, 'In time we shall know ourselves, even as also we ourselves are known.' I'm not a photographer of signs or letters, so I wanted to write that down in my diary. It's actually the only thing in that diary that's not a picture. It was a humble sign painter who wrote that."
He noted that the phrase was a variation of a passage from I Corinthians 13: "For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."
"I thought that fit so perfectly with what I was trying to do, because that sign-painter changed the 'I' to 'we,' " Smith said. "There's something spiritual about my work, so that's why I chose that for the title of my book."
For the exhibition, Smith sought out MMFA curator of art
Panhorst noted that for the seminal book "The Americans," Frank (who was bankrolled by a Guggenheim grant) took nearly two years to shoot tens of thousands of photos, only 82 of which appeared in the book. By contrast, Smith (with a few hundred bucks and some camping gear) took only 750 exposures, shot over a few months, with 52 powerful images selected for publication and exhibition.
"That really is a significant achievement," he said.
WHAT: "In Time We Shall Know Ourselves," photography by
ADMISSION: Free; donations are welcome
Also at MMFA
The museum was founded in 1930 as an art/local history museum, with original holdings representing the flowering of the local art scene under
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