W. Eugene Smith Photographs 1934-1975

Edited By Gilles Mora and John T. Hall 1998, Harry N. Abrams, New York

Review  |  Here we have a good book. I can’t believe I got it out of the cut out bin. W. Eugene Smith is one of my favorite photographers and one of the great pioneers of modern photojournalism. Smith virtually invented the photo essay while working for Life Magazine.

As the name of the book implies it is an overview of Smith’s photography and as such includes all of the most famous pictures. But many that were not shown in periodical layouts.  The book features essay’s by; Gabriel Bauret, John T. Hall, Gilles Mora, Serge Tisseron and Alan Trachtenburg. The essay’s cover stages of Smith’s life and photography. and they offer good insight into his work.

Smith’s photos from Tarawa Iwo Jima and Okinawa are powerful and tragically intimate.

Gene Smith first came into prominence in the second world war. Working in the SouthPacific, his pictures were good and scary. Smith would get up to where the action was hottest to get his photos. Life photographer Carl Mydans said Smith was a good photographer but that he was too brave, and took to many chances. Hew would stand up to get shots of the fighting, which as you can imagine, is dangerous. Smith’s photos from Tarawa Iwo Jima and Okinawa are powerful and tragically intimate. 

In early 1945 Smith is hit in the hand and mouth with Shrapnel during the battle for Okinawa. After avery long convalescence he began in the late 40’s to do his most famous work. He worked on and off for Life magazine but fought constantly with Photo Editor Wilson Hicks. Usually over the layout of his photo essays. 

Smiths technique was to immerse himself in the subject before going to shoot. For his story on a Spanish village which ran in Life in 1950. Smith studied Spanish art, literature, and history. The best of the photos reflect the vision ofartists such as Goya, Velasquez, and even Pablo Picasso. Smith uses these artists as touchstones in his search to tell somethingof the Spanish people in each frame. 

This is but one example of Smith’s work during this period and Smith did several large photographic projects in the 50’s and 60’s, even though he was plagued by chronic pain from his war wounds. As you can tell I get rather fired up about photographer Gene Smith, and I’m running out of room. So I will reccommend one thing. If you can’t find this book get anything you can with his name on it. (Minamata comes tomind right off the bat). It’s all good. –M.B.