Raymond Smith (American, (1943 - )
Fotomat Girl, Louisville, Kentucky, 1974
Gelatin silver print, 5.5 x 5 inches

Raymond Smith (American, (1943 - )
Rural Highway, Southern Georgia, after Rainstorm, 1974
Gelatin silver print, 7 x 7 inches

In Time We Shall Know Ourselves: Photographs by Raymond Smith

April 7, 2018 - June 3, 2018

In Time We Shall Know Ourselves, on display in the Bruce Museum’s Bantle Lecture Gallery from April 7 through June 3, 2018, is an exhibition of black-and-white photographs by New Haven photographer Raymond Smith. 

Inspired by the photographs taken in the American South in the 1930s by Walker Evans, a teacher and mentor of Smith at Yale University, as well as by Robert Frank’s The Americans (1958), in the summer of 1974 Smith embarked on a photographic expedition of his own. Smith traveled with his friend Suzanne Boyd in an aging Volkswagen from New England through the South and into the Midwest, camping and photographing people and places he encountered during the three-month journey.

Intending to write a Ph.D. thesis in American Studies, Smith instead channeled his intense curiosity about his country and its inhabitants into a moving suite of portraits, works that are at once down-to-earth, melancholy, and filled with surprise.

The exhibition features 52 photographs, most of which are vintage prints. Smith also has independently produced a book (In Time We Shall Know Ourselves, Rediscovered Masters, 2014) that illustrates the photographs with insightful commentary by two historians of art and culture. In the book he explained where he got the title. On a hot July day during that trip, driving south toward New Orleans and on the outskirts of Hattiesburg, Missiiiippi, he saw this sign: “In time we shall know ourselves/ Even as also we are known/ As we ourselves are known.”

Smith’s work may have been inspired by Walker Evans and Robert Frank, but In Time We Shall Know Ourselves stands as an independent statement about America and about photography in Smith’s times and places. Smith has written that his photography is “more closely related to literature, especially fiction…than it is to the other visual arts,” and that the “portrait is primary, and the photograph is a short story exploding beyond its frame.” 

Through the exhibition In Time We Shall Know Ourselves, these vivid short stories explode into an epic travel narrative, a great American novel set in the 1970s but with its culmination in the exhibition now traveling the country. The photographs serve not only as windows through which we see an earlier age, but also as mirrors in which, in time, we may learn something of ourselves.

In Time We Shall Know Ourselves is organized and circulated by the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Montgomery, Alabama. The exhibition is generously supported by The Charles M. and Deborah G. Royce Exhibition Fund, with support from the Connecticut Office of the Arts.