Statement by Julie Reiss, Art Historian

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 documentationor art becomes moot. Her evocative images move between the two and invite us to take a closer look at our own worlds, as observers and participants.

- Julie Reiss

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)