Smith's Pittsburgh Photographs
edited by Sam Stephenson
critical essay by Alan
W. Eugene Smith's Pittsburgh photographs are widely
considered to constitute one of the greatest city portraits in the
history of photography. Smith himself saw them as the central,
pivotal work of his storied career, despte the fact that his ambitions
for it were such that they were never fully realized. Over the
course of three years -- 1955, 56 & 57 -- spent on and off in
Pittsburgh, Smith made 17,000
photographs of the city in his attempt to push beyond the
limitations of the photo essay and expand the boundries of the medium
of photography to create
a grand, unified work of art akin to a symphony or a novel.
Editor Stephenson has distilled the essence of this massive effort into
the 175 duotone photographs that fill this volume. Many of these
will be instantly recognizable to any Pittsburgher as they have been
reproduced so often, but they take on added meaning and new life when
viewed in the context of the over-arching narrative created by the
assemblage presented here, which presents an unmatched portrait of
Pittsburgh, PA smack in the middle of the American Century. This
is a work that will be treasured by Pittsburghers, admired by artists,
photographers, critics and connoisseurs, and valued by historians for
many years to come.
softcover • 10" x 11" • 176 pages • ISBN 0393325121
retail price - $29.95
- out of stock!
Here's the Carnegie Museum's text for
the show -- which served as the
basis for the book -- when it originally ran:
When W. Eugene Smith drove to
Pittsburgh in early March of 1955, he intended to attempt "the greatest
of the impossible," an epic, kaleidoscopic study of a city that would
lay bare the mores of America at mid-century and set new standards in
the medium of photographic journalism. He was 36 years old and had
recently resigned from his high-salaried job with Life magazine, where
his World War II combat pictures and his groundbreaking photo-essays,
along with his bitter battles for editorial control of his work, had
made him a legend.
Smith went to Pittsburgh for a
routine, freelance assignment to produce 100 photographs for Stefan
Lorant's forthcoming book, Pittsburgh: The Story of an American City.
But, instead, Smith embarked on a personal odyssey that led him to make
17,000 pictures of the city over the better part of 1955 and on return
trips in 1956 and 1957. Through the end of 1958, Smith worked
obsessively, desperately, self-financed, making prints and
experimenting with layouts of his essay. He believed he was putting
together a magnum opus with no comparison in the history of
photography, a work whose lyrical precedents he found in classic works
of literature and music. In hindsight, it appears that deep frictions
in Smith's professional and personal lives were fueling photographic
ambitions of impossible proportions--ambitions that effectively ended
his career in journalism (as publishers became wary of his reputation
as a maverick) and entangled him fully in the impractical realm of art.
It was a twist of fate that
Smith concentrated his greatest ambitions in Pittsburgh. Here the
dreams of a brilliant, if sometimes quixotic picture maker who was
wrestling with fundamental issues of human yearning, well being, and
modern mythology, were matched with one of America's most important and
arresting industrial cities at its zenith.
Smith never achieved his goals
for the Pittsburgh essay, at least not for public viewing. On five
occasions, however, between 1957 and 1971, Smith made selections of his
Pittsburgh prints for exhibition or publication, and his selections
form the basis for the selection of the193 master prints in this
exhibition. This exhibition brings together the two finest collections
of Smith's Pittsburgh photographs, the Carnegie Museum of Art and the
W. Eugene Smith Archive at the Center for Creative Photography, The
University of Arizona, Tucson.
an in-depth review of the show on Absolute Arts.
retail price - $29.95
current as of 18 June 2009