Henri Cartier-Bresson, Truman Capote, 1947
W. Eugene Smith, British actor, playwright, and composer Noel Coward, 1949
Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eunuch of the imperial court of the last dynasty, Peking, 1949
W. Eugene Smith, [Newborn infant being presented to Alice Cooper], 1951
The overwhelming crowds at the recent Museum of Modern Art retrospective on Henri Cartier-Bresson got me thinking: where is MoMA’s retrospective on W. Eugene Smith? The similarities are certainly there: both produced photographs for Life and created long photojournalistic essays as well as portraits of notable people; both were represented by the Magnum agency (albeit not for long in Smith’s case); both did commercial work (a bank for Cartier-Bresson, a chemical company and a hospital for Smith) and both are ultimately known for their stunning humanistic images.
So is Smith overlooked because he was famously irascible, or because people actually think he was the inferior photographer?