W. Eugene Smith

W. Eugene Smith

W. Eugene Smith learned the hard way that photography could be too easy, a matter of making expert images of interesting subjects. He set himself to learn the truth - about himself as well as his subjects. In the process, he produced a series of photographic essays, for LIFE and other publications, whose passionate involvement set a standard for what photography can be. Gene Smith was a loner, a driving and driven man, who bucked the system of which he was a part. Some say he sacrificed his career, and himself, on an altar of self-destructive idealism. When he died at the age of 59 in 1978, he had $18 in the bank. But his name had become synonymous with integrity. His work was his memorial.

William Eugene Smith was born in Wichita, Kansas, in 1918. He began taking photographs in 1932 and early subjects included sports, aviation and the Dust Bowl.
After studying at Notre Dame University for a year he joined the staff of Newsweek. In 1938 Smith became a freelance photographer working for Life Magazine, Collier's Weekly and the New York Times.

In 1942 Smith became a war correspondent and spent most of the next three years covering the Pacific War. His most dramatic photographs were taken during the invasion of Okinawa in April 1945. On 23rd May Smith was seriously wounded by a Japanese shell fragment. He was taking a photograph at the time and the metal passed through his left hand before hitting the face. Smith was forced to return to the United States and he had to endure two years of hospitalization and plastic surgery.

In 1947 Smith joined Life Magazine and over the next seven years produced a series of photo-essays that established him as the world's most important photojournalist. This included essay entitled: Country Doctor, Hard Times on Broadway, Spanish Village, Southern Midwife and Man of Mercy.

Granted a Guggenheim Fellowship (1956-57), Smith began a massive picture essay of Pittsburgh. This was followed by another large project on New York (1958-59). Smith also taught photojournalism at New York's New School for Social Research and was president of the American Society of Magazine Photographers.
William Eugene Smith died in 1978.

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