Eugene Smith

At the age of 15, Eugene Smith was drawn to news photography and worked on assignments for the Wichita Eagle and the Wichita Beacon while still in high school. He earned a photography scholarship to Notre Dame University in Indiana, but left after only one year and went to New York where he got a job at Newsweek. In 1938 he joined Black Star agency where he worked as a freelance photographer for magazines including Life, Collier's and Harper's Bazaar. Early in his career, Eugene Smith realized that photography had the power to raise social consciousness and affect change. Eugene Smith was eager to have his photographs seen by a wider audience and to photograph the most poignant and pressing stories so he joined Life magazine in 1939. Although he had an on-and-off relationship with them until 1955, he was one of their most highly respected photographers. In 1942, Eugene Smith worked for the publishing firm Ziff-Davis covering the war in the South Pacific.

Frustrated that he couldn't get close enough to the action, he returned to Life in 1944. In 1945, while documenting the invasion of Okinawa, Eugene Smith was hit by shrapnel and was unable to work for almost two years while he recovered from his wounds. After such a long break from making photographs, he wanted his next image to be significant. The result was a photograph of his two children walking out of the woods into the light called "Walk in Paradise Garden". It was such a strong image that Edward Steichen used it in his 1955 exhibition and book entitled, The Family of Man.

Eugene Smith is probably best known for his photo-essays. Among his most successful are "Country Doctor", "Nurse Midwife" and "A Man of Mercy" about Albert Schweitzer. Although this work kept him quite busy, he still found time to be active in the Photo League (from 1948-50 he was the president); Magnum Photos from 1955-58; and in 1958 he began teaching at the New School for Social Research in New York City. Among many accomplishments, Eugene Smith was a three-time recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship; he won the ASMP's Third Annual Photojournalism Conference award in 1959; he was voted by Popular Photography Magazine as one of the "World's 10 Greatest Photographers"; and he was awarded an NEA grant in 1975.

In the early 1970s, Eugene Smith and his wife moved to Minamata, Japan to document the plight of people who had suffered from industrial mercury poisoning. Eugene Smith believed that pollution was a world-wide problem and he wanted to make people conscious through his photographs. In 1977, Eugene Smith and his wife settled in Tucson, AZ where he taught at the University of Arizona and arranged his archives at the Center for Creative Photography.

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