« Blog Note | Main | How I Practiced Portraiture »

Saturday, 05 August 2017


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I have a complaint about this book. I have long held Gene Smith's photography as among the very best and most emotion filled. I recently bought a nice copy of this biography on Mikes recommendation and have been enjoying it very much. In fact I plan on using it, along with an unread Wendell Berry book I've been holding in reserve, to ease a hospital stay I have coming up.
However, the type is too small for my eyes now! I could have read it so much easier in 1989 when my eyes were much, much better!

thank you.

...really love the last four paragraphs.

"There is a way to reach the average reader," he declared, "and not alienate the un-average reader..."

The necessary aim of all great art ?

Wonderful stuff, Mr. Hughes.
What I find depressing about this is just how drastically the influence and reach of photojournalism have declined in the past few decades. Gene Smith could touch the entire nation, indeed the world, through his art. Today, between the fragmentation of our culture, the disappearance of traditional print media photography venues, and the tsunami of on-line imagery, the most brilliant images are just a sand grain in the Sahara.

I remember, as a young wannabe photojournalist, the first time I saw Smith's "Pittsburgh" images. At first it was the power and scope of th images themselves that impressed me. It was only later as I learned more about him, that I was truly affected by the idea that someone could be so serious, so dedicated, to photography. That sobered me right up, and photography has never been the same since.

Time for a revised and enlarged second edition of that book. I'll buy one!

Thank you very much for taking time to share this with us, Jim. A very interesting story about a guy who provided more than his share of them, as you perhaps know better than anyone.

"You come into some situations where there's a feeling, and you want to make light to give others that feeling. I asked Gene, 'Do you feel this interferes with the truth?' He said that it is terribly important, for truth, to know a hell of a lot about the situation and the people.
I love this kind of old news. Many thanks

Wow! And I am sure that there could be more from Jim Hughes' "cutting room floor." The Guardian article captures the more post-modern view of Smith formed during Robert Frank's era ten years later, as a great artist still seeing and hearing widely but no longer able to communicate coherently to a wide audience. Sam Stephenson's more documentary approach, enabled by the Smith archive, is letting us see much that the Life media channel would not carry at the time. (I have pre-ordered the new book at Amazon.) But I am glad that Jim Hughes can capture the spirit with which Gene Smith attacked his impossible challenges.

To echo Geoff Wittig's comment, yes, it is a shame that the influence of the still image has declined. I suppose video replaced that influence decades ago when television news surpassed Life and its ilk. It’s always seemed to me that still news images have more lasting impact on memory than moving pictures. I can think of dozens of still news photos that I remember in great detail, but only a few memorable film or video sequences – the Zapruder film, Oswald’s death, Armstrong stepping on the moon, the Challenger explosion, tank man at Tiananmen Square. In most cases, there is an equivalent still photo whose impact equals or exceeds the video. Tiananmen Square is the only one, for me, whose impact exceeds that of the still image – it’s pure video because you can’t understand that confrontation without seeing the dance between the tank and the man. I wonder if Smith had started his career in the video era whether he would have chosen video over still photography. Video is where the action and attention are, although not the fame. It’s a shame that there is absolutely no recognition for video journalists.

Also, re Mike R’s comment about World Press, some of Smith’s pictures would probably not pass muster now because of Smith’s darkroom manipulation. If the judges were to find out.

I second the notion that it's time for a revised and enlarged second edition of Mr. Hughes' fine book. I read it a couple of years ago & poured over (and enjoyed) every word of it.

I look forward to an expanded, revised edition. Jim, good luck.

Thanks so much for this recollection. Smith was passionate even before we collectively, culturally prized (& have nearly ruined) that word.
The book of his Pittsburgh material is my favorite of his works.
Walking The Walk, indeed.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007