After Stanley Greene died on May 19th I received the following email from Jim Hughes, here edited by Jim for publication. To answer two questions that might arise from the text, Jim is the biographer of W. Eugene Smith and was Editor in Chief of the famous magazine Camera 35. —MJ
Here are a few pages—plus a little added current commentary—that, strictly for space reasons, I was forced to remove from my Smith biography in order to get the book published at the time. The excerpt below is from my two-volume, 2,000 page Second Draft (there were five drafts in total), the only one I kept with me when I moved to Maine. The other drafts, plus all the underlying interviews and research, were donated to ICP in New York in 2009 to establish the W. Eugene Smith / Jim & Evelyn Hughes Research Archive, to make it publicly accessible for scholarly/historical research.
There were, unfortunately but necessarily, many such deletions. I bled profusely after each one.
Here is the deleted material, direct from the cutting-room floor:
In 1970, Stanley Greene, a 21-year old whose wife had recently left him, was dating Sandi Perpetua [she was one of the cadre of young people coming in and out of the Sixth Avenue Loft who had enlisted to help Gene Smith organize and print his monumental Jewish Museum exhibit, "Let Truth Be the Prejudice"]. Perpetua evidently wanted Gene to meet Greene, whose father had been a photographer [not to mention a blacklisted Hollywood actor, as I would later learn].
"On an acid trip, I'd torn my apartment to smithereens," Greene related to me 10 years later, in an interview for my Smith biography. "The police had come, and Sandi brought Gene, and he told them it was all right, he'd take care of me.
"I woke up in his arms. He was rocking me. He said, 'I know what it is like to lose someone, not through death. Wouldn't it be better if they died? When they are alive, you still know they are alive.'
"That's just what he said. He was crying. I was crying. Sandi was crying. We were holding on to each other, crying. The next day, he asked me to come over to his loft. Then one day he asked me if I could get him some speed. As far as I know, speed was the strongest thing he did. Speed and Scotch.
"The amusing thing was, at first I had no concept of who Gene Smith was. I thought he was this crazy old guy. He would give these rambling lectures while talking to you. I remember one day, Sandi was treating her Nikon like a very valuable item, and Gene got angry about it.
"He was already using an old Rolleiflex as a doorstop. So he took a Pentax—he had cameras all over—and used it to hammer a nail into a board for a sink stand he was building. He said, 'A camera is only a hammer.' He was adamant that she understand that cameras were tools.
"I would stay at that loft for hours on end, and I never once saw him sleep, eat, or lose energy. There was always a pile of stuff on a table that he never wanted to be thrown out, or even touched. He would go over there and start poring through it. It was almost like the 'Rosebud' scene from Citizen Kane.
In the pile were pictures and books, letters, war paraphernalia, filters, an original print of his two kids walking up the path, a picture of him recuperating after the war. He would pull something out, turn around and talk about it, then throw it back on the table.
"Or he would stare out into space, walk back and forth, become reflective. It was like you could see him rolling the reels of his life through his head.
"I was there one day when he didn't say anything. He was completely lost. I left. He didn't say goodbye. I asked Sandi that night, 'Did he say anything all day?' He hadn't.
"I saw him print once. It was like he was conducting an orchestra. He had the TV on with a red filter over the screen, and he had a tape he played that was nothing but sounds. That's when I thought he was crazy.
"Every time I got there he was awake, and every time I left he was still awake. Sandi and Leslie [Teicholz] would be all crashed out, but he would still be going, talking about things even if no-one was there to listen."
I first came to know Stanley Greene in the early 1970s, shortly after his time with Smith caused him to seriously consider giving up the painting he had studied at the School of Visual Arts and pick up a camera instead. Smith had shown him the potential power of photography to cut to the quick and reveal the rhythms of life. At Camera 35, Greene arrived in my office with a number of small and a few large B&W prints, everyday images of his family in New Rochelle, a Westchester County suburb of New York City. I asked him to return when he finished the project. I think he went on to bigger challenges.
When in 1979 I announced in The New York Times Book Review my intention to write a biography of W. Eugene Smith and was looking to interview people who had known him, Stanley was one of the first to respond. By then, he was living and photographing in San Francisco, where he had formalized his study of photography at the Art Institute. The interview quoted above, conducted by telephone in 1980, was one result of my public query. Greene also sent me a tape he had made earlier, in the summer of 1976, of Gene lecturing at the Institute.
"Time is running out on me," a clearly exhausted Gene Smith announced when asked a question from the audience about his long-planned, and ultimately never completed, Big Book of his lifetime of closely observing the world he lived in. "I do not think I will have time...."
Gene died in 1978. He was 59, but appeared far older. The following year, along with friends John Morris and Howard Chapnick, I co-founded the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund, which sponsors the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography. In 2004, Stanley Greene applied for and received that very same Smith Grant to help him continue and expand his incredible and courageous work in Chechnya to the wider Caucasus. I don't think he mentioned his connection to Smith in the application, but I knew. At the awards ceremony, I told Stanley that I wished Gene could have been there, to see what the man who considered him his mentor had accomplished, and would surely continue to accomplish.
Earlier that same year, upon the publication of his book Open Wound: Chechnya 1994–2003, he had told Newsweek magazine, "I have been accused of having lost my objectivity. But when you sit on a fence and watch genocide without doing anything about it, you are as guilty as those who are committing it."
And in a 2012 interview at LOOK3, Greene said, "When you watch someone on your left and right being killed, you become angry, and have this naive idea that pictures are going to stop it. You go back more and more to show proof, and you hope pictures that get published will make people stop it. But it’s not the case."
At the end of a comment on TOP last week from Stan B., Mike responded: "I'm still boggled that Stanley Greene died of cancer."
Stanley himself has told the story of an earlier period in Paris when he tried fashion photography, hung out in cafés and shot heroin. He had visions, he said, of Gene Smith wagging his war-damaged finger at him, admonishing him to straighten up and move on. He tried, but it may already have been too late. It is no secret that Stanley subsequently suffered for many years from Hepatitis C, which can occasionally lead to liver cancer. He fought it to the end, and kept working to the end. We are the better for his relentless efforts to show us what we needed to see. Yes, the cancer killed him. But I prefer to think that like his friend Gene Smith, he simply ran out of time, a finished vision just out of reach because, despite everything, with the making of each picture, Stanley still believed the world could change.
©2017 by Jim Hughes, all rights reserved
Ed. Note: We do not mean to slight Stanley Greene by showing a picture of Gene Smith but not one of Stanley. We asked for permission to publish a picture of Stanley Greene but his agency refused.
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Manuel: "There is certainly much more to say when it comes to W. Eugene Smith, a photographer I revere, and Stanley Greene, but whatever can I add? I just want to thank Jim and Mike for this simply wonderful reading."
[A different] Mike: "Thank you for this. I've been a passionate admirer of W. Eugene Smith for decades, and greatly enjoyed the biography by Jim Hughes. I was unaware of Stanley Greene until after he died. But somehow it seems inevitable that he would have been mentored by Smith. Both seemed like men who led with their hearts."
Bill Mitchell: "I have always been a fan of Gene Smith's work (thank you Jim Hughes). Googling 'images W. Eugene Smith' brings up to me a passel of great pictures, but I am viewing them through a lifetime of familiarity and a 20th-century point of view. I wonder how those images are holding up to 21st-century sensibilities."
Robert Newcomb: "In my younger years I was very good about actually going to photography shows. I would even travel hours to get to some. I once went to a W. Eugene Smith exhibition at the High Museum in Atlanta. The images were so powerful that I had to stop and sit down for a rest about halfway through the show."