Born 1941, Cincinnati, OH
After moving to New York as a young man, seeing Roy DeCarava’s Sweet Flypaper of Life convinced self-taught Beuford Smith to pursue photography. When he met DeCarava in 1965, he was so nervous to approach the famous photographer that he accidently set off his flash in DeCarava’s face. Despite this startling encounter, DeCarava asked to see Smith’s work and then introduced him to the Kamoinge Workshop members. Smith still has a copy of that photograph. During a pivotal meeting on June 6, 1965, DeCarava resigned as chairman. After showing photos at two previous meetings, Smith was voted into the workshop.
Smith’s work was included in the Negro Woman exhibition and, along with Lou Draper, he worked closely with Camera editor Allan Porter to publish the workshop’s “Harlem” portfolio in 1966. During that period Smith worked at various offset printing companies, including Harlem Stationery & Printing Co. It was there that he printed sample copies of his book Photographic Images. His friend, John Dahl printed one hundred copies of the book for him. This book sparked the idea of producing a Kamoinge Workshop book, but it was abandoned because of missed deadlines for photograph submissions.
Smith worked with Jimmie Mannas at his Jymie Production Co., printing silk screen Black art posters in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn.
Smith began working as a freelance photographer in 1970. He worked for Burley Photo Agency, Black Star, AT&T, and others, before founding Cesaire Photo Agency (named for his son) in 1977. His first published photo appeared in the Amsterdam News in 1965, for which he received five dollars but no credit. In the early 1970s and ‘80s, his photographs were published in Black Creation, Ten-8, and elsewhere.
Smith was the founder and chief photo editor of the Black Photographers Annual. He oversaw the printing quality control of each issue, and was called “Mr. Densitometer” by Sidney Rapoport, who owned the company that printed the Annual.
In recent years, his photographs have been published in Timeless, Soul of a Nation, The Sweet Breath of Life, Contact Sheet, Harpers, PDN, Collecting African American Art, and MoMA publications. They have appeared in the Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool video and a Tyler Green podcast. Smith has taught photography at Cooper Union, New Muse, Brooklyn Museum, PAL, and Hunter College. In 2017, he was the first recipient of A Culture of Legacy Award from the Griffin Museum of Photography. He also received a NYFA in 1990 and 2000, an Aaron Siskind Fellowship, and a Light Work Fellowship in 1999, among other awards.
He has had solo shows at the Studio Museum in Harlem, Benin Art Gallery, Wilmer Jennings Gallery, and Keith DeLellis Gallery, and a group show at MoMA. His work was also included in the Soul of a Nation exhibition at the Tate Modern, the Brooklyn Museum, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, The Broad museum in Los Angeles, the de Young Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
His photographs are in the collections of VMFA, the Schomburg Center, MoMA, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and others.
Smith is the guest curator of a group exhibition at the Wilmer Jennings Gallery in 2020 and will have a career retrospective there later in the year. Beuford Smith is president emeritus of Kamoinge.
The biography above, written by Sharayah Cochran and edited by Beuford Smith, has been reproduced from the catalog “Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop.”
The collection helps document the formation of the Kamoinge Workshop in the early 1960s, including a notebook with minutes from their earliest meetings. Photographs from the collection show the early members of Kamoinge, and in particular focuses on the life of Louis H. Draper (1935-2002).
The collection was donated to the VMFA in August 2019 by Beuford Smith.