06 Calendar

October 1, 2017
Contact: Wendy Malloy
Museum of History & Industry PR
206 324 1126 Ext. 150

Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry Seattle on the Spot: The Photographs of Al Smith Exhibit Shines a Light on Hidden History this Fall

October 1, 2017

When you look at Al’s photographs, you don’t feel like a visitor, but more like a participant, partaking in the joy revealed by his camera —Paul de Barros

Seattle, WA – This fall, explore Seattle on the Spot: The Photographs of Al Smith, on view at the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) November 18, 2017 through June 17, 2018. An in-depth exhibit of legendary Seattle photographer Al Smith, this special show illustrates how Smith used photography to document the African-American community in the Pacific Northwest during the mid-20th century.

A retrospective of Smith’s work, Seattle on the Spot: The Photographs of Al Smith draws on the finest examples of more than 40,000 photographs generously donated to MOHAI by the Smith family. This irreplaceable work serves as a unique example of capturing history through the lens, film and flashbulb.

Curated by Howard Giske, MOHAI’s Curator of Photography and a long-time friend of Al Smith, this important exhibit uncovers a collection as unique as the man who created it. “Al was as comfortable in church on Sunday morning as he was in a nightclub on Saturday night,” said Giske. This inclusive attitude inspired Smith to create lively documentary photographs of diverse subjects.

For more than half a century, Smith documented African-American community life in his hometown of Seattle. During that time, he amassed thousands of prints and negatives (taken between 1930 and 2005), which he stashed in drawers and cabinets and grocery bags in his home.

“I remember helping him develop pictures in his darkroom,” said Al “Butch” Smith Jr., Al Smith’s son and collaborator on the exhibit. “My job was to move new prints from tray to tray on a precise schedule. It was quality time, even without conversation. The camera was like a universal key that opened doors and gave my father license to go anywhere. He prided himself in knowing Seattle’s streets and what was happening around town and in the black community. He seemed to know everyone.”

Born in 1916, Al Smith received his first camera as a gift as a teenager. He fell in love with photography as he began to capture images of the Central District community where he was raised. After working as a steward on steamships, and sailing to Hawaii, Japan, China, and the Philippines, he returned to Seattle with a professional camera and began to explore his own city with the curiosity that had carried him around the Pacific. He brought his camera wherever he went, capturing friends and family, meeting and gatherings, and the vibrant social life, focusing on the Central District in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.

“Al Smith’s photos capture the transformation of this changing and vibrant African American community between 1940 and the 1970s,” said Quin’Nita Cobbins, historian, webmaster and collaborator on the Seattle on the Spot exhibit. “The steady rise in postwar migration fueled local civil rights campaigns of the 1960s and dramatically altered African American experiences in the Pacific Northwest.”

Seattle on the Spot: The Photographs of Al Smith is accompanied by an illustrated book with contributions by Jacqueline E. A. Lawson, Howard Giske, Al “Butch” Smith Jr., Paul de Barros and Quin’Nita Cobbins. The book is distributed by the Museum of History & Industry and the University of Washington Press.

Generous support for Seattle on the Spot: The Photographs of Al Smith is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, The Boeing Company, Laird Norton Wealth Management, MOHAI Exhibits Fund, Mike Repass, 4Culture, The Hugh and Jane Ferguson Foundation, ArtsFund, Washington State Arts Commission, Wyman Youth Trust, and Gordon & Celia Bowker.

Up-to-date information about Seattle on the Spot and related programming can be found on the MOHAI online calendar, on Facebook or by calling (206) 324-1126.

Follow Smith’s lead by using a camera to tell the story of your community with MOHAI’s Seattle on the Spot photo contest. The winning photographs will be chosen by a panel of judges and displayed in the Seattle on the Spot exhibit. Enter by tagging your photo with #SpotOnMOHAI on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Deadline is Oct. 31. Learn more about the contest and how to enter on the Seattle on the Spot exhibit page.


(Details are subject to change, and additional programs and events may be added. Please check the website soon for updated details and information).

Seattle on the Spot Opening Member Party

Friday, November 17

Members only

Connect with members and friends to celebrate the opening of Seattle on the Spot: The Photographs of Al Smith. Not a member? Join today and connect with Seattle’s rich history while becoming part of its future. Membership at MOHAI guarantees year-round, unlimited access to riveting stories while preserving the artifacts and narratives that shape Seattle. Learn more at or call (206) 324-1126, ext. 194.

Seattle on the Spot Opening Day

Saturday, November 18

10 am – 5 pm

Included with admission

Celebrate the opening of Seattle on the Spot with a photographic journey through Seattle’s vibrant past. Tour the exhibit and see artifacts from legendary photographer Al Smith’s darkroom. Go behind the scenes in an immersive nightclub that includes a video, dance floor, music, interactives, games and artifacts on display, and more. Please check the website soon for updated details.

Telling the Story of Al Smith:

Tuesday, Dec. 5

7 pm

$5 MOHAI Members / $10 General Public

How do you tell the story of Seattle’s Central District, vibrant jazz scene, and much more through the lens of one man’s camera? Join Vivian Phillips, Seattle Arts Commission chair, as she hosts a conversation with curators Howard Giske, Al “Butch” Smith, Jr., Paul de Barros, and Quin’Nita Cobbins. Gain insights into the life and legacy of Al Smith and the development of MOHAI’s new exhibit, Seattle on the Spot: The Photographs of Al Smith.


Seattle on the Spot Family and Community Day

January 13, 2018

10 am – 5 pm

Enjoy music, performances, craft activities, and more! Please check the website soon for updated details.

Location, Hours and Admission

MOHAI is located at 860 Terry Ave. in Seattle. Exhibit gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is free on first Thursdays to MOHAI’s regular galleries and open until 8 p.m. (Seattle on the Spot: The Photographs of Al Smith and MOHAI’s popular miniature Hammons House, will be accessible at a special rate on first Thursdays of $8 for adults, $6 for student/senior/military). Admission to Seattle on the Spot: The Photographs of Al Smith is included with regular MOHAI admission of $19.95 for adults, $15.95 for seniors (62 and above); $13.95 for students and military (with ID); free for children 14 and under (when accompanied by an adult) and MOHAI members. As part of the Museums For All program, low-income families can visit MOHAI for a minimal fee of $2 per person with the presentation of an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. For more information, call (206) 324-1126.


MOHAI is dedicated to enriching lives through preserving, sharing, and teaching the diverse history of Seattle, the Puget Sound region, and the nation. As the largest private heritage organization in the State of Washington; the museum engages communities through interactive exhibits, online resources, and award-winning public and youth education programs.  For more information about MOHAI, please visit, or call (206) 324-1126. Facebook: Twitter: @MOHAI.

Image credits: Jitterbug Couple, 1944. MOHAI, Al Smith Collection.

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