William Eugene Smith, (very) concerned photographer! (1918 – 1978)

One day... that was a long time ago now...

... I received a shock with all my eyes..., with all my heart..., when I found this MASTERPIECE:

the wake
The WakeSpain 1951

I discovered this day a "very Great" photographer,
a concerned photojournalist known for use his camera as a weapon to defend his ideas:

the US American photographer William Eugene SMITH!

William Eugene Smith       William Eugene Smith

"Never have I found the limits of the photographic potential. Every horizon, upon being reached, reveals another beckoning in the distance. Always, I am on the threshold."
W. Eugene SMITH

W.E. Smith icon

I was unable find any reproductions of a improved resolution, and from the best quality for the magnificence of the W.E. Smith's work. Indeed, I "recovered" them on the net, at best (!?) that I've been able to find—and retouch!
I don't believe, by copying his marvellous pictures, violate the rights of those who have inherited [1]: my only aim and desire are to illustrate the immense admiration I express for "Gene" Smith, as an homage to his genius and heightened sensitivity!


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World War II on the front lines of the island-hopping US American offensive against Japan

"I wanted my pictures to carry some message against the greed, the stupidity and the intolerances that cause these wars."
W. Eugene SMITH

As a correspondent for "Flying", and then "LIFE Magazine", Wonderful Smith photographed the war, briefly in the Atlantic but most of the time in the bloody island-to-island fighting in the Pacific.

W.E. Smith - saipan       W.E. Smith - iwo jima
      Saipan Island1944                                                   Iwo Jima Island1945

During that time he was involved in 26 carrier combat missions and 13 invasions...

Saipan Island [2]

Roll over the thumbnails
without clicking


US American soldier and injured child

suicide charge

US American soldier in Life

mother gratitude

civilian family Japanese

frightened japanese
mother gratitude


Iwo Jima Island

jeep destroyed on the beach

wreckage on beach

wreckage on beach as man sleeps in shelter

LIFE, april 9, 1945

veteran Iwo cemetery
jeep destroyed on the beach


Okinawa Island

Terry Moore crouches under shell attack
Terry Moore crouches under shell attackmay 1945


injured soldier
injured soldier in prayermay 1945


artillery kills japs             raid on Tokyo
artillery kills japs                                                                 raid on tokyo                 


The man of action "Wonderful Smith" was injured by a shell fragment from mortar fire in Okinawa on May 22, 1945. The shell passed through his hand to cut open his cheeks, knocking out teeth and causing wounds to his tongue. Due to his wounds from the war, W. E. Smith was left hospitalized for two years of treatment and plastic surgery.


W.E. Smith icon

Years of hospitalization and plastic surgery, and strong will to express his abomination for the war.
Result: a photograph among most famous of the century:

The Walk to Paradise Garden
The Walk to Paradise Garden1946

During this period of convalescence, Smith took a walk with his two children, Juanita and Patrick, and came back with one of the most famous photographs of all time.


W.E. Smith icon

1948/1954 – Correspondent for "LIFE Magazine" [3]

LIFE Publication              1948 – "Country doctor"

Photo essay on Dr. Ernest Ceriani, a general practitioner in tiny Kremmling, Colorado.

Although they were taken without its prior agreement, "LIFE" will publish 28 photos in a superb essay entitled "Country Doctor".

This groundbreaking photo essay was credited as the first "photo story" of the modern photojournalism age.




Dr. Ceriani with injured little girl

Dr. Ceriani makes a house call on foot

Thomas Mitchell's anesthesia

shot of morphine

following the loss of a mother and child during childbirth

on his way in foul weather
Dr. Ceriani with injured little girl


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1948 – Dewey defeats Truman

Famously—and it is true today—inaccurate banner headline on the front page of the Chicago Tribune on November 3 1948, the day after incumbent United States President Harry S. Truman beat Republican challenger and Governor of New York Thomas E. Dewey in the 1948 presidential election in an upset victory:

Dewey defeats Truman
Silver Print, CalifornieNovember 2nd 1948


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1950 – Sent to the United Kingdom to cover the United Kingdom General Election

Smith took this opportunity to photograph of working-class Britain, and in particular in the South Wales valleys:

three generations of Miners
Three Generations of Welsh Miners


small town in the south of Wales
Small town in the south of Wales


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1951 – "Spanish Village" ~ Deleitosa, in Estramadure

guardia civil
Guardia civil

In the single most famous image from "Spanish Village", the faces of three members of dictator Francisco FRANCO's feared Guardia Civil evince the arrogance often assumed by "small" men granted great power over others.


the spinner

two old ladies

grain threshing

old peasant

mother and child

mother and childs
the spinner


W.E. Smith icon

1951 – "Nurse Midwife"

"I wanted to make a very strong point about racism, by simply showing a remarkable woman doing a remarkable job in an impossible situation."
W. Eugene SMITH

W. Eugene Smith looked at himself as the defender of truth for the world. Smith’s essay on the nurse midwife, Maude CALLEN, is a great example of his desire to change the world.

At a time when it wasn’t socially acceptable to deal with Blacks, Smith went to North Carolina and spent weeks getting to know this woman and became her friend. I think that Smith gained this woman’s trust and respect. His photographs show it.

Maude Callen

Maude Callen 8

Maude Callen 2

Maude Callen 3

Maude Callen 4

Maude Callen 5
Maude Callen

Through Smith’s photographs published in "LIFE", $18,500 was donated by magazine’s readers toward building a clinic for this woman.


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1951 – "Ku Klux Klan" meeting, South Carolina

W. E. Smith was fortunate just being able to witness one of the Klu Klux Klan’s ritual (and clandestine) gatherings...

KKK meeting

... and taking out his camera and shooting with flash must have required great courage: in these images clan members appear a mixture of confused and displeased by a photographer presence:

KKK meeting


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1952 – "My daughter Juanita"

my daughter Juanita

Unfortunately, I could only find this very poor quality "thumbnail" that betrays all the quality of this beautiful picture.


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1954 – "A man of mercy"
Dr. Schweitzer — Lambarene (Gabon)

W. E. Smith severed his ties with "LIFE" over the way in which the magazine used his photographs of Albert Schweitzer, with which had wanted to show the complexity of the character!

Dr. Schweitzer

Albert Schweitzer in office

Albert Schweitzer and patient

Albert Schweitzer and construction

Albert Schweitzer medical visit

Baby chimpanzee holding kitten
Dr. Schweitzer


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1955 – Magnum photo agency – The "Pittsburgh Project"

Wikipedia indicates: "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".

pittsburgh railroad   pittsburgh railroad tracks
railroad tracks

smoky city


steelworker with goggles



dance of the flaming coke
smoky city


Shriner's circus parade       dream street
    Shriner's Circus Parade to Sixth Street Bridge                                       Dream Street


boy hanging on street sign
Boy hanging on Colwell and Pride street sign
couple returning wedding gift
Couple Returning Wedding Gift



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1958 – "Drama beneath a city window"

In 1957 Wonderful Smith had left his family and moved to 821 Sixth Avenue in New York [4]...


Known for his excessive devotion to his work, he photographed street scenes from his window:

vue du loft       spectacle vu d'une fenêtre de ville

vue du loft 2       vue du loft 5


icone W.E. Smith

(Some of the) Artists and musicians with some of which he had shared an artistic and musical life

Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra1947


Charlie Chaplin, limelight

Charlie Chaplin, limelight 4

Charlie Chaplin, limelight 5

Charlie Chaplin, limelight 2

Charlie Chaplin, limelight 3
Charlie Chaplin, limelight

"Charlie Chaplin at work"1952
Charlie Chaplin during the shooting of the movie "Limelight"


Salvador Dali and two young women
Salvador Dali and two young women1957


Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk and Town Hall Band in rehearsalfebruary, 1959


Bob Dylan
Bob Dylanjune, 1965


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1972 – "Death-flow from a pipe"

"I’ve never made any picture, good or bad, without paying for it in emotional turmoil."   W. Eugene SMITH

Minamata, the first "activist-ecological" pictures

Minamata" is a small coastal town on the island of Kyushu in Japan.
W.E. Smith and his second wife, Japanese, Aileen Mioko Sprauge Smith, also photographer, lived in 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.

industrial mercury pollution from the Chisso Chemical Company
Industrial mercury pollution from the Chisso Chemical Company1972

W. Eugene Smith was attacked by Chisso employees, liable for pollution. Although the photographer survived the attack, his sight in one eye deteriorated, the worst injury for a photographer:

injured Smith


One of his most famous works, published a few months after the 1972 attack, drew worldwide attention to the effects of Minamata disease:

Tomoko Uemura in her bath
Tomoko Uemura in Her BathMinamata, December 1971

Born in 1956, Tomoko suffered from mercury poisoning due to contaminated fish. Mercury had entered her bloodstream through the placenta, leaving her blind, deaf, and with useless legs.

Smith heard about Tomoko's daily afternoon bath and asked her mother if he could photograph them.

(Tomoko Uemura died 6 years later, at the age of 21.)
    Tomoko's hand


~  All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.  ~
Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Article 1

Chisso's President Shimada
Employee very caring for this poor Chisso's President Ken'ichi Shimada who's warm during one of the negotiations for compensations
Takako Isayama
Takako Isayama,
one of the many innocent victims of the Chisso company pollution



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Last accuracy

Complications from his longterm consumption of drugs, from which William Eugene Smith died in 1978 [5], two and a half months before the age of 60!

W.E. Smith icon

jazz loft project
The Jazz Loft Project1959




[1]In particular :
– The W. Eugene Smith Archive, Center for Creative Photography of The University of Arizona,
The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith,
– Time & LIFE Pictures/Getty Images

[2]Saipan Island is the largest island of the Northern Mariana Islands (Mariana Islands)

[3]Major William Eugene Smith's publications in LIFE Magazine (ref: french Wikipedia):
* Aug 28 1944 – Saïpan, 11 photos, U.S. Marines at Saipan
* Dec 05 1944 – Hospital on Leyte, 9 photos, military hospital located in the Leyte Cathedral, Philippines
* Mar 12 1945 – Marines win bloody, 4 photos, U.S. Marines at Iwo Jima
* Apr 09 1945 – The battlefield of Iwo, 13 new photos (including cover), U.S. Marines at Iwo Jima
* Sep 20 1948 – American battle for Okinawa, 18 photos, U.S. Marines at Okinava, May 1945
* Sep 20 1948 – Country doctor, 28 photos, photo essay on Dr. Ernest Ceriani, Colorado
* Sep 23 1949 – Life without germs, 18 photos, experimental program in bacteriology, Indiana
* Mar 26 1951 – Recording artists, 22 photos, musicians in RKO-Victor and Columbia studios
* Apr 09 1951 – Spanish village, 17 photos, photo essay on the small Spanish town of Deleitosa
* Dec 03 1951 – Nurse Midwife, 30 photos, photo essay on midwife Maude Callen in South Carolina
* Mar 17 1952 – Chaplin at work, 31 photos, Charlie Chaplin during the shooting of the movie Limelight
* Jan 05 1953 – The reign of chemistry, 18 photos, about the Monsanto's business operations
* Sep 21 1953 – My daughter Juanita, 17 photos (including cover)
* Nov 15 1954 – A man of mercy, 25 photos, photo essay on Dr. Albert Schweitzer, French Equatorial Africa
* Mar 10 1958 – Drama beneath a city window, 14 photos, 821 Sixth Avenue, New York
* Aug 30 1963 – Colossus of the Orient, 13 photos, Hitachi, Japan
* Jun 02 1972 – Death flow from a pipe, 11 photos, Minamata (Japan)

[4]Sixth Avenue—officially "Avenue of the Americas" since 1945, although this name is seldom used by New Yorkers,
      and the street has been labelled as both "Sixth Avenue" and "Avenue of the Americas".

[5]In Tucson (Arizona), on October 15. He was buried in Crum Elbow Cemetery, Pleasant Valley, New York.



FRANCE - November 20, 2012
Dada writes:
Bien sûr... la Photographie à son sommet !

NEW ZEALAND - November 22, 2012
Timothy writes:
Thanks very much for this. Very amazing photos, a pure lesson in concerned photographs...

FRANCE - May 31, 2013
Dominique writes:
Félicitations Daniel, c'est un véritable reportage ; comme toujours "chiadé" et très intéressant.

FRANCE - April 20, 2015
Michel writes:
Merci pour cette présentation claire et circonstanciée.
Pourquoi le genre photographique est-il devenu si rare de nos jours ? L'utopie du message par l'image semble réalisée, personne ne croit à une prise de conscience par l'image.
Même un journal comme Libé ne se laisse pas tenter, me semble-t-il, par des séries photographiques dignes d'un nom tel qui celui que vous présentez ici.
Alors qu'il existe des photographes merveilleux qui sévissent dans la nature

UNITED KINGDOM - August 1, 2015
RaoulShade writes:
Eugene Smith stands out head and shoulders above the rest of photojournalists for authenticity and integrity. In fact he renounced twice from LIFE Magazine. He was also the absolute master of the dark room. His Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath is superior to Michelangelo's Pietà.

BELGIUM - February 7, 2016
lamaphot writes:
Simplement le plus grand.



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