Book Review for:
W. Eugene Smith: Shadow and Substance: The Life and Work of an American Photographer
Book Author: Jim Hughes
This book tells us how this great artist, shaped by tragic family history, wounded physically and mentally by war, brutally attacked--his cameras destroyed--trying to tell the story of voiceless victims, deformed by the mercury poisoning created by one corporation, had to continuously fight the corporate management, at LIFE magazine, for the creative freedom to show the world HIS unique photo-stories of the human condition.
Smith's stunning B&W images, masterfully illuminated with, directional, natural light, giving his images strong shadows on his subjects and often deep dark vignettes, were hand printed by Smith like Gothic paintings.
His dramatic prints evoke the tenebrism of the baroque master painter Caravaggio--see "The Calling of Saint Matthew".
Imbedded with the Marines, Smith's WWII images of the invasion of Iwo Jima are legendary. One in particular, caught with perfect timing, shows a Marine demolition squad blowing-up a Japanese bunker. The huge explosion in a landscape already resembling something only Dante could imagine, with the small cluster of Marines doing their duck-and-cover in the foreground, is awesome and horrifying in it's terrible beauty. This image made the cover of LIFE magazine as one of the few times where the photograph WAS the cover--no other text was on that cover except the LIFE masthead and the date and issue price. I am proud to own that issue of LIFE.
It's no wonder that when asked what other photographer he admired Ansel Adams mentioned W. Eugene Smith's name before any others saying how impressed he was at Smith's ability to capture the decisive moment.
The influence of Smith's work, more than any other photographer, is why I shifted my professional photography from things to people. That influence is also why I only use natural light when outside or when inside, I prefer window light, much like the Dutch painter Vermeer did 300 years ago.
This style of photography is fast disappearing in this digital age. I urge serious photographers to study Smith's images and read this story of an artist whose passion would permit no compromises to his vision.
You can see many of his images with the simple GOOGLE of his name. Then go to TIME/LIFE or MAGNUM PHOTO and enjoy the best B&W storytelling images ever made!
Jerry W. Venz