He began taking photographs in 1932 and early subjects included sports, aviation and the Dust Bowl. After studying at Notre Dame University for a year he joined the staff of Newsweek. In 1938 Smith became a freelance photographer working for Life Magazine, Collier's Weekly and the New York Times. In 1942 Smith became a war correspondent and spent most of the next three years covering the Pacific War. His most dramatic photographs were taken during the invasion of Okinawa in April 1945. On 23rd May Smith was seriously wounded by a Japanese shell fragment. He was taking a photograph at the time and the metal passed through his left hand before hitting the face. Smith was forced to return to the United States and he had to endure two years of hospitalization and plastic surgery. In 1947 Smith joined Life Magazine and over the next seven years produced a series of photo-essays that established him as the world's most important photojournalist. These included essays entitled: Country Doctor, Hard Times on Broadway, Spanish Village, Southern Midwife and Man of Mercy. Granted a Guggenheim Fellowship (1956-57), Smith began a massive picture essay of Pittsburgh.
Smith's last great photo-essay, Minamata (1975), deals with the residents of a Japanese fishing village who suffered poisoning and gross disfigurement from the mercury wastes of a nearby chemical company. While photographing this project he was severely beaten by several local factory workers who were opposed to the revelations that his camera exposed. An extensive collection of his work was acquired by the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona in 1976.
Smith severed his ties with Life again over the way in which the magazine used his photos of Albert Schweitzer. Starting from his project to document Pittsburgh, he began a series of book-length photo essays in which he strove for complete control of his subject matter. This was followed by another large project on New York (1958-59). Smith also taught photojournalism at New York's New School for Social Research and was president of the American Society of Magazine Photographers.
Complications from his consumption of drugs and alcohol led to a massive stroke, from which Smith died in 1978. Today, Smith's legacy lives on through the W. Eugene Smith Fund to promote "humanistic photography," which has since 1980 awarded photographers for exceptional accomplishments in the field.
Of him, he says: "I am an idealist. I often feel I would like to be an artist in an ivory tower. Yet it is imperative that I speak to people, so I must desert that ivory tower. To do this, I am a journalist-a photojournalist. But I am always torn between the attitude of the journalist, who is a recorder of facts, and the artist, who is often necessarily at odds with the facts. My principle concern is for honesty, above all honesty with myself..."
His Works and Analysis:
"A Walk to Paradise Garden", 1946
Smith's war wounds cost him two painful years of hospitalization and plastic surgery. During these years he took no pictures and whether he would ever be able to return to photography was doubtful. Then one day, during his period of convalescence, Smith took a walk with his two children and even though it was still intensely painful for him to operate a camera, came back with one of the