What Should W. Eugene Smith Be Remembered For?

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W. Eugene Smith, Walk to Paradise Garden, 1946

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W. Eugene Smith, Marine Demolition Team Blasting Out a Cave on Hill 382, Iwo Jima, March 1945

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W. Eugene Smith, [Maude Callen examining pregnant woman in screened area in church, others waiting], 1951

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W. Eugene Smith, Tomoko in bath, 1972

As I was walking through the AIPAD show in New York this past spring, a picture caught my eye. It was W. Eugene Smith’s Walk to Paradise Garden, and although other works of Smith’s were available it was this one that was featured prominently in the dealer’s booth.

Smith made his name as one of the pioneering photojournalists featured in Life magazine during the 1940s and ’50s. In his World War II stories and much of his other work he felt responsible for portraying the truth of the subjects as powerfully and rigorously as possible, giving his pictures a visceral impact. He journeyed to Africa, the segregated American South, and other unusual places to tell the stories of those he felt were overlooked. Smith’s devotion to his principles and unwillingness to compromise made him difficult to work with, and after leaving Life, and then Magnum, Smith often had problems finding work.

But the principles, passion, and commitment to social justice were still there, as is evidenced by his Minamata photos. And so while Walk to Paradise Garden is a fine picture (a portrait of two of his children) it seems a shame that Smith is known to many for this relatively banal work.

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One Response to What Should W. Eugene Smith Be Remembered For?

  1. sayshanti says:

    Thanks for the posting – just to remind anyone interested in W. Eugene Smith’s legacy: the awards ceremony of the W.Eugene Smith Grant is scheduled in New York the Asia Society this October 14th – you should attend since one of my heroes will be receiving the grant for a courageous and most indispensable work worthy of Gene Smith.

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