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Ming Smith, Sun Ra Space II,

Ming Smith Photographs Michael Jordan, Women Basketball Players for Nike’s Jordan Brand

Artist Ming Smith, in a recent interview with her gallerist Nicola Vassell, compared her photography technique to a shot in basketball: “The power of anticipation and the patience to wait for what’s coming. It’s like a basketball player hitting three-pointers: practice, repeat, practice, repeat. You get better, and still you’ll miss a few. In photography, you have to nail it the moment it’s in the lens. Take the shot when you see it.” In a project tied to the 25th season of the Women’s National Basketball Association, which launched last month at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Smith had the chance to shoot some of the players hitting those three-pointers.

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Ming Smith, Sun Ra Space II,

Earlier this year, with Vassell’s help as creative director, Nike’s Jordan Brand brought on Smith to photograph women members of the Jordan Brand family who, together, represent the largest group of female athletes to be endorsed by Jordan. The photographs include portraits of Minnesota Lynx guard Crystal Dangerfield, New York Liberty guard Kia Nurse, Dallas Wings forward Satou Sabally, L.A. Sparks point guard Te’a Cooper, Dallas wings guard Chelsea Dungee, Los Angeles Sparks guard Arella Guirantes, Minnesota Lynx forward Aerial Powers, Las Vegas Aces forward Dearica Hamby, and Seattle Storm guard Jordin Canada.

Smith is known for the candid, impeccably composed photographs she has been making for over four decades, since she became the first and only female member of Kamoinge, a collective of Black photographers founded by Roy DeCarava. In her photographs for the Jordan shoot, the athletes are shown, both individually and as a group, standing in a field of tall grass, wearing black dresses or black pantsuits. In two of the photos, they flank six-time NBA champion and Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan himself.

Of interacting with the athletes, Smith said she and the shoot’s stylist Carlos Nazario, global fashion director of i-D magazine, “were trying to capture their essence.”

She added, “Empowering images are not stereotypical. Our mothers didn’t have to show huge cleavage, but they were very female. They were women. We are women. So just their beauty is beautiful to me inside and out. It’s the physical and spiritual … the spirit.”

Michael Jordan sees the Jordan Brand family in connection with his racial justice efforts. In early June 2020, shortly after the death of George Floyd and subsequent protests, Jordan announced he would make a $100 million donation to combat racism, which will go to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted Peoples and Families Movement, Black Voters Matter, and other organizations. He said at the time that “Jordan Brand, the Jordan Family and our partners… share a commitment to address the historical inequality that continues to plague Black Communities in the U.S.”

Earlier this spring, Vassell opened her new New York gallery with an exhibition of Smith’s photographs titled “Evidence.” A number of Smith’s images from the Jordan project will be on view at the gallery as the small pop-up exhibition from June 29 through July 2.

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