A new exhibit at the Museum of History and Industry celebrates the history of the African American community in Seattle’s Central District through the eyes of photographer Al Smith.
“When you look at his pictures, you feel like you're there," said his son, Al “Butch” Smith. "He was an observer, a fly on the wall."
Smith took more than 40,000 photos over a 65-year period. About 200 of them are part of Seattle on the Spot: The Photographs of Al Smith.
“By the time he was a teenager, he was already taking pictures,” said Howard Giske, MOHAI’s Curator of Photographer and Smith’s friend. "People is what he was all about."
In the 1940's, Smith shot inside lots of nightclubs - represented in an interactive display where guests can play cards featuring real Seattle musicians or learn the era's popular dance moves.
"There was so much joy and happiness in the context of segregation,” Butch said. “Yes, people were struggling. But they knew how to have a good time. And he captured that."
Smith also captured the essence of community with his photos of parades, neighborhood gatherings, and families. The camera became an extension of his personality.
Butch said his mother gave him a funny piece of advice on his father’s 50th birthday.
"’You be sure you bury that camera with him, because if you don't, he's coming back for it,’” he recalled, laughing.
He hopes his father's passion for photography will help inform future generations about the importance of neighborhoods.
"Like the Central District, where there's such a rich history ethnically, it's just important to the legacy of the city,” Butch said.
Seattle on the Spot: The Photographs of Al Smith opens to the public November 18 and tickets are available online.
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