Sheila Smith is a photographer whose subjects are the streets
of New York and the places to which she travels. Her unique
perspective and the resulting images offer a glimpse into the way
that memory functions. They also speak to the differences between
observing one's home turf and observing the unfamiliar.
In Smith's Barcelona and Scheveningen montages, some fragments
are grainy, some are faded and some are crystal clear. This range
suggests a tangible vision of how memory itself works. Some mental
images retain their clarity when recalled, while others hover on the
brink of retention. Smith's juxtaposed digital images are a seamless
scrapbook preserving a record of her travels into the unknown.Yet
her record is not of monuments and tourist attractions. Instead her
eye searches out people as they go about their lives, on a crowded
beach or bustling through a railway station. Candid rather than posed,
her subjects are lost in their private thoughts.
Smith also photographs her hometown, New York. Here her eye
is caught both by the glamorous, and by small episodes and spaces
that ordinarily pass unnoticed. Smith comes close to her New York
subjects, their familiarity inviting a high level of engagement and
intimacy. Even the mannequins in their shop windows take on
a vibrant presence, looming large in their niches. The montage
format returns with Christo's Gates, which transformed the familiar
landscape of Central Park.
In Smith's work, the long debate about photography as documentation
or art becomes moot. Her evocative images move between the two
and invite us to take a closer look at our own worlds, as observers
Julie Reiss is an Associate Professor at Christie's Education Dept. and
an independent scholar and art historian who lives in New York. She
lectures and writes frequently about contemporary art. She is the
author of "From Margin To Center: The spaces of installation art"
(The MIT Press)