In Time We Shall Know Ourselves: Photographs by Raymond Smith
January 20 - March 25, 2018
Ray Smith will speak about his work and sign copies of his book at HMA as part of the 4th Tuesday Tour Series on January 23, 2018, at 7 p.m. This is a Macy’s Free Tuesday event.
In the summer of 1974, Ray Smith set out from New Haven, Connecticut, with a friend and two medium-format, twin-lens cameras to see and photograph America. They traveled in a VW Beetle for six weeks until the car broke down in Kansas City. Smith then returned home and took a job taking photographs of students around the country for their campus identification cards. Between assignments and during breaks he continued photographing for this project through September.
With a tight budget for film throughout the year, Smith carefully selected people, places, and things to photograph, amassing about 750 frames of 2¼” x 2¼” black and white film. He promptly processed the film and printed about two hundred of the images, exhibiting and publishing several of the photographs over the years. Since 1979, few of his images have been seen by anyone but the artist until recently.
Now, more than 40 years after Smith’s sojourn, he shares 52 of his photographs that document the journey. The artist has sequenced the images so that the ensemble is more than the sum of the parts, and he has independently produced a book that illustrates the photographs with insightful commentary by two historians of art and culture.
In Time We Shall Know Ourselves is a remarkable achievement. It was instigated by Smith’s love of photography, nurtured by his formal education in American Studies, and focused by his keen appreciation of Robert Frank’s The Americans (1958)—perhaps the most influential book of photographs published in the 20th century—and his profound respect for photographs by Walker Evans, his mentor at Yale whose American Photographs (1938) and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (with James Agee, 1941) rival The Americans.
Evans and Frank have informed Smith’s work, but In Time We Shall Know Ourselves stands as an independent statement about America and about photography in Smith’s times and places. He has written that his photography is “more closely related to literature, especially fiction…than it is to the other visual arts,” and that the “portrait is primary, and the photograph is a short story exploding beyond its frame.”
Here and now, these vivid short stories explode into an epic travel narrative, a great American novel set in the 1970s but with its culmination in its publication and exhibition today. The photographs, book, and exhibition serve not only as windows through which we see an earlier age, but also serve as a mirror in which, in time, we may learn something of ourselves.
Presented with support from The Isabelle Gwynn and Robert Daine Exhibition Endowment.
This program is presented with financial assistance from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, and the National Endowment for the Arts, with approval from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts.
Raymond Smith (American, born 1942), Rural Highway, Southern Georgia, after Rainstorm, 1974. Gelatin silver print. Image courtesy of the artist.