Henri Cartier-Bresson or W. Eugene Smith?

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?

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8 Responses to Henri Cartier-Bresson or W. Eugene Smith?

  1. Kristin Ligocki says:

    Henri Cartier-Bresson. I have my own Leica M6 with the same lens that Cartier-Bresson used, so I appreciate the quality & depth of his images…I will see both artists in person to once again take inventory, just for the record.

    All the Best,

    Kristin Ligocki

  2. Paul Pizzano says:

    He is overlooked because people don’t actually think at all! He is in my opinion a far superior photographer then Cartier-Bresson. He isn’t a concentration camp survivior or European but his work showed that he understood the gravity of what was before his lens. He wasn’t just snapping away in the right place at the right time! If you step back and look at the entire collection of both photographers with no preconcieved notions it’s a no brainer, Smith is superior!!!!!!!

  3. Sanjay says:

    I wouldn’t say one is superior over the other, but I like them both as photographers for different reasons. I definitely think Eugene Smith is overlooked, but I am not sure why. I, for one, would love to see Eugene Smith’s work in person. If you noticed, even his books are more expensive and harder to come across, in my experience.

  4. Kerrie Ruth says:

    While I have always loved Cartier Bresson’s photographs, I think Eugene Smith’s photographs are really humane.

  5. Michael Stepansky says:

    Saying Eugene Smith was the “inferior” photographer is like saying Mozart is the inferior composer to Beethoven, or Dachshunds are inferior to Poodles… W.E. Smith was a master printmaker–something Bresson never seemed to spend that much time on (even when he did the printing himself), and his vision was (and his prints were) definitely darker–I think this is one of the real differences. …The other might be that (there is a story that) Gene Smith realized some of his photos were “too” perfect–that they were taken at the peak of action (a la Bresson)–but that he felt more could be gained by the picture either just before or just after the climax… another difference. My aesthetic is more in the Gene Smith camp, but Bresson can’t be regarded as anything other than one of the most important photographers in the history of the medium. I might give it to Bresson just for influence, but ultimately I think Gene Smith was willing to go to darker places–literally, and emotionally–than Bresson, which gives his work a more consistent spiritual core. I guess I’d give it to Smith, but Bresson was a freak’n genius too–that can’t be underestimated.

  6. I love them both, but when I was a young photographer, it was the work of W. Eugene Smith that inspired and motivated me in a way that no other did.

    Now that I am an older photographer – and the First Runner-up winner of a Smith Memorial Fund grant (’99) – it is still Smith who inspires me more than any other photographer – although David Alan Harvey comes close for what he is doing to encourage young and emerging photographer and to advance photojournalism and personal photography on the web.

  7. Christina says:

    Smiths work is why I fell in love with photography. I love Bresson, but for me it has to be Smith.

  8. Smith ! he did all the job, from taking pictures to prints, a bit disturbing by his subjects, his way to break rules of photography, his way of life, but for this disturbing side he deserves respect and patience : “That which comes into the world to disturb not hing deserves neither respect nor patience” ( René Char), and for the rest, his pictures, so many people have the strongest ones (means quite a few) in their mind without knowing his name.

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