Born in Detroit, Michigan, Ming Smith grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and moved to New York in the early 1970s. There she worked with a wide network of fellow artists, musicians and dancers. She was the first, and for many years the only, woman member of the Kamoinge Workshop, a collective of African American photographers based in New York. The group formed with the aim of challenging negative representations of black communities and to develop photography as an artistic practice. In 1975 she became the first African American woman photographer to have work acquired by The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Throughout her career she has travelled extensively, capturing life in America, Africa, Europe and East Asia.
Smith's work has been presented in seminal exhibitions such as Soul of Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, Tate Modern, London (2017); We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965-85, Brooklyn Museum, New York (2017); Arthur Jafa: A Series of Utterly Improbably, Yet Extraordinary Renditions (Featuring Ming Smith, Frida Orupabo, and Missylanyus), Serpentine Galleries, London (2017); Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography, MoMA, New York (2010); and Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Upcoming exhibitions include Just Above Midtown: 1974 to the Present at The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Ming Smith: An Aperture Monograph, the first comprehensive publication dedicated to Smith, was published in 2020, featuring essays and interviews by Arthur Jafa, Greg Tate, Namwali Serpell. and Hans Ulrich Obrist. Last year, Smith was included in the Tate publication Photography Now: Fifty Pioneers Defining Photography for the Twenty-First Century.
Smith’s work is held in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, New York; Detroit Institute of Arts; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Philadelphia Museum of Art; National Gallery of Art, Washington; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York; Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, Washington; Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, Washington; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; Baltimore Museum of Art; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.