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W. Eugene Smith: Selections from Classic Photographic Essays

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06/12/2002

NEW PALTZ -- NEW PALTZ - In conjunction with the issuance of a United States Postal Service stamp series titled "Masters of American Photography," the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, SUNY New Paltz, presents the exhibition W. EUGENE SMITH: SELECTIONS FROM CLASSIC PHOTOGRAPHIC ESSAYS. Smith's photograph "Frontline Soldier with Canteen" (Saipan, June 1944) is included in the first class stamp series that will be released on Wednesday, June 13, 2002.

In addition to "Frontline Soldier with Canteen," the Dorsky Museum exhibition includes select images from Smith's classic photographic essays including "Saipan, Japan" (World War II), "Country Doctor," "Spanish Village," "Nurse Midwife," "A Man of Mercy," and "Pittsburgh." The exhibition is on view from June 22 through July 27, 2002. An opening reception is planned for Saturday, June 22 from 2 - 4 p.m. The exhibition and reception are free and open to all.

The photographs are on loan from the Smith Family Collection.

W. Eugene Smith (1918-1978) is hailed as a master of documentary photography and the photographic essay. His images were considered a mainstay of LIFE magazine, and many of them have gone on to become classic images in the history of photography.

Known for his keen eye and relentless pursuit of the perfect moment, Smith developed a reputation for being a difficult photographer to work with. Photo editors, in particular, were subject to his demanding high standards and vision for each project.

In 1939 Smith began to receive commissions from Life magazine. Although he resigned three years later, he rejoined the magazine as a war correspondent based in the Pacific in 1944, covering the battle of Saipan. Smith had planned to shoot heroic images of war, but instead he was overcome by its horrors. Later, he said that being born an American was simply by chance, and that he could see his wife and children in the faces of the Japanese people who were so devastated by the war.

During this period as a war correspondent, Smith was wounded by shrapnel and sent home. The first photograph that he shot upon his return is the evocative "Walk to Paradise Garden." This classic image of two children walking along a wooded garden path suggests a symbolic healing and passage from darkness into light. Yet it was not published by Life because the children were not facing the camera.

Smith maintained a stormy relationship with Life for another eleven years. Over this period, he produced some of the publication's most famous stories including "Spanish Village" in 1950, "Nurse Midwife" (Maude Callen) in 1951, and "A Man of Mercy" (the Albert Schweitzer story) in 1954.

From 1955 to 1958, Smith was a member of MAGNUM photo agency where he was assigned to document the city of Pittsburgh. Originally, a book publisher had commissioned him to produce 50 images for a project that was expected to take about two months to complete. In the end, Smith spent nearly three years in Pittsburgh and took more than 10,000 photographs. The publisher had long-since pulled out of the project because of the great delay, and Smith barely escaped financial ruin.

While his most noted essays appeared in Life, Smith's work was also featured in other magazines including Collier's, Harper's Bazaar, New York Times, Picture, Post, Time, Sports Illustrated, and Pageant. He received three Guggenheim fellowships. His work has been exhibited and collected by museums internationally.

The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz is open Wednesday through Friday, 1-5 p.m. and Saturday, 1 - 8 p.m. It is closed Sunday through Tuesday. Additional information is available by calling 845-257-3844 or on the web at www.newpaltz.edu/museum.

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