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Iconic Photographers - W. Eugene Smith

by Editor Peter Davidson
Edited and published by Yvette Depaepe, the 6th of April 2023




                                                                                                                   W. Eugene Smith

This weeks iconic photographer is one who impacted my sensibilities as a young photographer probably more than any other. The first image of his that I saw, was of Minamata and the woman cradling her daughter. That image, shown below, has stayed with me. His ability to emotionally capture with an unrelenting gaze the humanity of his subjects was equaled only by his ability to use light to underscore the story. He then worked these powerful images into a visual story of immense impact. He is without doubt the reason I personally still love documentary photography above all other forms.  While researching this article, I discovered there is a biopic film released in 2020 starring a certain Mr Depp as Smith titled Minamata. I haven't seen it, but I shall try to do so - now I know it exists. (Yes, I must live under a rock).

His body of work, for one who died so young at the age of fifty nine, is astounding. There is a video shown without words showcasing his work, and it's a highly recommended watch HERE.


At the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Curator David Little says many photographers are forgotten today, because their work was purely documentary and relevant only to their own time. But Smith's work is different.

"There is something about these photographs," Little says. "There's a transcendent quality to them. They document, they give us the morality, but then they give us more - it's that extra bit that sets him apart. Eugene Smith was knowledgeable about art and he used art as a way to make people care, and that's why his work carries on."


                                                                                                Let Truth be the Prejudice, 1965

W. Eugene Smith was an American photojournalist and documentary photographer who was known for his exceptional editorial style and his powerful and evocative images. Born on December 30, 1918, in Wichita, Kansas, Smith began his career as a photographer in the 1930s, working for various newspapers and magazines. Over the course of his long and distinguished career, he produced some of the most iconic and memorable images in the history of photography.

One of Smith's most famous works is "The Spanish Village," a photo essay that he produced in 1951 for Life magazine. This essay documented the daily lives of the people in the Spanish village of Deleitosa, and it captured the beauty, hardship, and resilience of their existence. The photographs in this essay were powerful and emotional, and they conveyed a sense of empathy and understanding for the people Smith was photographing.

Another of Smith's most famous works is "Country Doctor," a photo essay that he produced in 1948 for Life magazine. This essay documented the life and work of Dr. Ernest Ceriani, a rural physician in Colorado. The photographs in this essay were intimate and personal, and they captured the struggles and joys of Dr. Ceriani's life and work. This essay is considered one of the most important photo essays in the history of photography, and it helped to establish Smith's reputation as one of the greatest photojournalists of his time.

                                                                                                                Spain, 1951

Smith's editorial style was characterized by a deep commitment to his subjects and an intense focus on capturing the truth and authenticity of their lives. He was known for his meticulous attention to detail, his relentless pursuit of the perfect image, and his willingness to immerse himself in his subjects' worlds in order to capture their essence. He was also known for his technical skill and his ability to use light, composition, and other photographic techniques to create images that were both beautiful and emotionally powerful.

Smith's legacy as a photographer is one of the most enduring and influential in the history of the medium. He was a pioneer of the photo essay format, which became a staple of documentary photography in the mid-20th century. He also helped to establish the role of the photographer as a visual storyteller and a documentarian of the human experience. His work continues to inspire and influence photographers and artists around the world, and his images remain as powerful and relevant today as they were when they were first created.

Undoubtably, he was one of the most important and influential photographers of the 20th century. His editorial style and his commitment to capturing the truth and authenticity of his subjects' lives set a standard for documentary photography that continues to this day. His legacy as a photographer is one that will endure for generations to come, and his images will continue to inspire and move people around the world for many years to come.


                                                                                                                    NYC, 1956
                                                                                                             Spanish Village, 1950

                                                                                                                  Delivery, 1951


Thanks for these article Peter. Still young enough to remember turning the pages of Life magazine. I also was not aware of Mr. Depp's movie, Minamata. It is now on the list.
Forever young, that's the spirit. I enjoyed the film, hope you do too.
Great article Peter, Thank you so much!
Thanks Patrick.
Excellent article
Thanks Emel.
Beautiful article , the images are so live and relevant , the war photographs are so heart wrenching , they show so much pain everywhere. When Will we learn not to have a war ? Thank you Peter for enriching us with iconic photographers.
Thanks Anita, yes indeed, when will we ever learn?
Excellent Article about W. Eugene Smith! I watched the video suggested by and deeply moved by his works, especially the ones about the wars! I love what you said about his works: "...create images that were both beautiful and emotionally powerful". You opened my eyes. Thanks a lot. Striking photos selected!
Great that you watched the video Wanghan, fascinating portfolio indeed.