The vision of a dreamer never left her; in the ethereal light of her photographs you can sense rapture and delight in moments that pass others by. She is gentle but authoritative towards her subjects, often returning to mothers and their children, to lone and solitary figures; to moments of contemplation and transcendence, whether through prayer or music, or a child thrown up in the air with delight.
Ali was hardly the only iconic American figure Smith photographed—and unlike that lost photograph, many of her later pictures of famous musicians and artists, like Nina Simone, Betty Carter, Alvin Ailey, David Murray, and Sun Ra, did see the light of day. Yet those works represent only one strand of Smith’s work.
She has also been drawn to ordinary people—families, children, churchgoers, passersby—and fleeting connections that, thanks to the photograph, last a lifetime. There is a prescient joy in many of these photographs, a sense of awe.