Photographer Insight: W. Eugene Smith

It's hard to give a straight forward overview of Eugene Smith. He was someone that people look back and say "yes, he had the artist's personality". He had a particular vision, style and was obsessive with his work - which by themselves brought him opportunities on end. 

He worked for Newsweek, Life and Magnum in what was a career filled with adventures and captivation of emotions. He was someone that was truly all heart. He was fired from Newsweek because he refused to use a medium format camera, later to join Life. He soon left Life due to a spat in the manner in which some of his images were portrayed by the magazine.

Smith subsequently joined Magnum, the prestigious photo agency based out of Paris, and took on the project of photographing Pittsburgh - a project that was only suppose to take him 3 weeks. Instead, he spent 3 years documenting various aspects of life in Pittsburgh and producing thousands of negatives. So obsessed and so thorough was he that he went at odds with anyone that disagreed with his style.

Ultimately, he died in 1978 at age 59 with only $18 in his bank account. A memorial fund for work in photojournalism was set up in his honor and it quoted the following:

"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."

Writing about Smith is always an emotional experience. His photographs are as deep as was his life and perhaps represents one of the most incredible sacrifices to the field of photojournalism. 

You can find more about him here:

Pittsburgh and Magnum

LIFE Magazine

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