Masters of Photography – W. Eugene Smith

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W. Eugene Smith (1918-1978)

W. Eugene Smith began his photographic career by taking pictures for two daily newspapers in his hometown of Wichita, Kansas. Smith eventually moved to New York City where he worked for Newsweek and then Life Magazine for a while. As a correspondent for Ziff-Davis Publishing and then again with Life, he followed the U.S. forces in the Pacific Theater photographing the war in Saipan, Guam, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. In 1945 he was seriously wounded on Okinawa and didn’t touch a camera for two years.

After he recovered from his wounds he worked for Life until 1955 when he joined the Magnum Photo Agency. He was granted a Guggenheim Fellow and embarked on a project to create a photographic essay of Pittsburg. A project that was supposed to last three weeks lasted for three years and generated over 10,000 negatives. He went on to produce more photo essays including Albert Schweitzer-A Man of Mercy, Country Doctor, Nurse Midwife and Minamata, a photo essay of the effects of water pollution from a manufacturing plant on the people of Minamata, Japan.

His essay on the people of Nimamata, Japan opened the eyes of the Japanese government to the results of unchecked industrial polution and surely contributed to the increased awareness of the effects of pollution worldwide.

Smith was perhaps the originator and arguably the master of the photo-essay.

Many of Smith’s photos were not for the faint of heart but they showed the horrors of war and the tragedy of industrial polution as well as the human condition. Many of his images can be found on in The Commons and in other locations on the internet. I urge you to view W. Eugene Smith’s work and by doing so, learn from one of the great masters.

W. Eugene Smith - 1946

A Walk Through Paradise Garden is a photo that Smith took of his two children. While I haven’t been able to find confirmation, I have been led to believe that this photo is the first one of note that Smith took after his injuries from mortar fire on Okinawa.

W. Eugene Smith - Okinawa, 1945

A soldier “covers up” to protect himself from enemy fire.

"untitled" - Pittsburgh Steel 1955 - W Eugene Smith
A steel worker in Pittsburgh circa 1955

Photo Credits:
All photos by W. Eugene Smith from Flickr Commons

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