Georgia Museum of Art photography exhibit showcases the spirit of 1970s America

Raymond Smith shot 750 photos during a three month cross-country excursion in the summer of 1974
Raymond Smith
Rural highway, southern Georgia, after rainstorm, 1974

Photograph courtesy of the Georgia Museum of Art

In 1974 Raymond Smith, a 31-year-old graduate student in American studies at Yale, drove cross-country with two twin-lens reflex cameras in tow. Inspired by Depression-era and post-war photographers Walker Evans and Robert Frank, he set out to document the people and spirit of 1970s America. Over three months, the self-taught photographer shot 750 images of caregivers in Savannah, college students in Baltimore, and families in Orlando. More than 40 years later, 52 of the photographs are finally on display at major museums in a traveling exhibition—coming to the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens on October 24—and in an accompanying photo book, both titled In Time We Shall Know Ourselves.

On his artistic process
“I aspired to be invisible, as if the camera was just there without me.”

On his legacy 
“One of my preoccupations at that time was that [the images should] be able to stand up for 30 to 40 years [and look] as if they were taken yesterday.”

On photographing post–civil rights America
“I was not out to document anything political. I was actually quite liberal, but any propaganda just kills art.”

On the calendar:  The Georgia Museum of Art showcases photographer Raymond Smith’s images of 1970s America from October 24 through January 3, 2016.

This article originally appeared in our October 2015 issue under the headline “Summer of ’74.”