Dream Street:
W. Eugene Smith's Pittsburgh Photographs
Dream Street
edited by Sam Stephenson
critical essay by Alan Trachtenberg

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

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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.

And, here's an in-depth review of the show on Absolute Arts.

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