Book Review: In Time We Shall Know Ourselves by Raymond Smith
By Peru McCarra
With the mature aesthetic of Walker Evans and Robert Frank, Raymond Smith takes us on a refreshing visual expedition of the American South in 1974 in his book, In Time We Shall Know Ourselves. The book includes reflective essays written by Alexander Nemerov, Professor of Art History at Stanford University, and Richard H. King, Professor Emeritus American Intellectual History at the University of Nottingham. The art exhibition at Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut also features Smith’s images, showing from April 7- June 3, 2018. The photography exhibition itself was curated by Michael Panhorst of the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts and has successfully traveled to six other museums in the South.
Mingling with the city folk in Pennsylvania, Illinois, West Virginia, Maryland and other southern territory, Raymond Smith’s photographs introduce us to residential families, children, bar hoppers, war veterans, and garage owners in their most natural element. The black and white images uncover the casual fashions and patriotic fervor of the city dwellers, cloaked in relaxed buttoned down shirts, jeans, A-line dresses, and work uniforms with the American flag symbol appearing on buildings. Smith even captures city goers at bus stops. He showcases the responsibilities and duties of the people such as taking care of their family, working, doing errands and of course commuting. Though some of the subjects are in the middle of leisure and idle activity, such as getting ice cream or relaxing at a rest stop, Raymond Smith is determined to feature the dutiful, hard working southerner.
The stereotype of the American dream focuses too much on the goal achieved, and not enough on the day-to-day progress and journey of the dreamer. Raymond Smith loyally reveres the unsung hero, the underdog of society if you will. His sophisticated vision allows the audience room to visualize and appreciate the determined spirit of America as a whole.
“In time we shall know ourselves/ Even as also we are known/ As we ourselves are known,” is a sign Raymond came across in a serendipitous moment during his travel to New Orleans. These words epitomize the high esteem Smith holds for the persevering and astute American culture. Both Alexander Nemerov and Richard H. King acknowledge Raymond Smith’s gentle homage to his people. Smith neither boasts or fabricates truths of the residents; rather, he presents and offers a stage to a strong community that continued to follow their duty regardless of the upheavals during the 1970’s, such as Richard Nixon’s resignation due to the Watergate scandal involving the arrest of burglars tampering with the presidential campaign, and the racial tensions that arose as government was putting an end to segregation
Both scholars, Nemerov and King, address Smith’s vernacular style, maintaining that he subtly, yet powerfully shows the reality of the African and Caucasian communities, dignifying both equally for the audience. Nemerov specifically links Smith’s aesthetic to Eva Newell’s (1845-1919) style, a village photographer in Plantsville Southington, Connecticut. Raymond Smith had discovered her negatives before going on his traveling quest.King additionally punctuates the association of Smith’s book title with the Christian Bible’s Paul’s First Corinthians, 13:12, : “For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known”(King James Version).” King proclaims his awe with Smith’s vision, maintaining that he successfully uses his camera as a mirror, reflecting, informing, but most importantly giving great attention to the Americans.