Spotlight: W. Eugene Smith at LIFE



W. Eugene Smith has always been one of my favourite photojournalists, and with the LIFE photography collection hosted by Google, a large number of his images have now become easily accessible.

Smith produced quite a few seminal pieces of photojournalism in his life time, and many of their images have become iconic, for good reason.


What maybe has always drawn me towards his work is how infused it is with humanity and compassion, even when covering such gruesome events as the battle of Saipan. Who can remain unmoved by the image of the dying infant (even in this day and age where we have literally seen each and every carnage, from every possible angle)? Note how images like this one or this one look almost contemporary, don’t they?


In 1951, Smith went to Spain and came back with another outstanding set of images, famously this one or this one.


Not to be missed, of course, are both the Country Doctor series and his work on nurse/midwife Maude Callen. “After the war, Smith undertook a series of photo-essays for LIFE magazine. Smith would spend weeks immersing himself in the lives of his subjects. This approach, very different from the usual practices of photojournalism, reflected Smith’s desire to reveal the true essence of his subjects. For ‘Nurse Midwife,’ the story of Maude Callen, a black woman working in an impoverished community in the rural South, Smith wanted his essay to ‘make a very strong point about racism, by simply showing a remarkable woman doing a remarkable job in an impossible situation.’” (source).