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William Eugene Smith (December 30, 1918 – October 15, 1978) was an American photojournalist known for his refusal to compromise professional standards and his brutally vivid World War II photographs.

He began his career by taking pictures for two local newspapers. He moved to New York City and began work for Newsweek and became known for his incessant perfectionism and thorny personality. Smith was fired from Newsweek for refusing to use medium format cameras and joined Life Magazine in 1939. He soon resigned from Life, too. Smith joined the Magnum photo agency in 1955. There he started his project to document Pittsburgh. This project was supposed to take him three weeks, but spanned three years and tens of thousands of negatives. It was too large to ever be shown, although a series of book-length photo essays were eventually produced.

In January 1972, Smith was attacked by Chisso employees near Tokyo, in an attempt to stop him from further publicizing the Minamata disease to the world. Although Smith survived the attack, his sight in one eye deteriorated. Smith and his Japanese wife lived in the city of Minamata from 1971 to 1973 and took many photos as part of a photo essay detailing the effects of Minamata disease, which was caused by a Chisso factory discharging heavy metals into water sources around Minamata. One of his most famous works, Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath, taken in December 1971 and published a few months after the 1972 attack, drew worldwide attention to the effects of Minamata disease.

Complications from his longterm consumption of drugs, notably amphetamines and alcohol led to a massive stroke, from which Smith died in 1978.

Smith was perhaps the originator and arguably the master of the photo-essay. In addition to Pittsburgh, these works include Nurse Midwife, Minamata, Country Doctor, and Albert Schweitzer - A Man of Mercy.

Today, Smith's legacy lives on through the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund to promote "humanistic photography." Since 1980, the fund has awarded photographers for exceptional accomplishments in the field. (Wikipedia)

"Photography is a small voice, at best, but sometimes one photograph, or a group of them, can lure our sense of awareness".
"The world just does not fit conveniently into the format of a 35mm camera".

Send me a note with your DD suggestions for Photojournalism.

See also Part I:…
pinballwitch Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2012
Thanks for sharing! I'd definitely heard about this guy's work in Minamata but I didn't remember his name (nor did I know there was more to the story). :)
e-l-a-n-i Featured By Owner Mar 16, 2012
Thank you for sharing! :)
Kaz-D Featured By Owner Mar 16, 2012  Hobbyist Photographer
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Submitted on
March 15, 2012


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