American photojournalist W. Eugene Smith was widely praised for his devotion to photography and for pioneering the use of the photo essay to tell stories. He is said to have “created at least fifty images so powerful that they have changed the perception of our history.”
There’s one little fact about how Smith worked that may be of great interest to photographers these days, especially as debates rage on regarding the merits of “straight out of camera” (SOOC. i.e. non-Photoshopped) photography: Smith believed that most of what makes a photo is done in the darkroom rather than in the camera.
The New York Times has published a recently-discovered interview photographer W. Eugene Smith gave the American Society of Media Photographers back in 1956. Here’s Smith’s response to the question, “When do you feel that the photographer is justified in risking his life to take a picture?”:
I can’t answer that. It depends on the purpose. Reason, belief and purpose are the only determining factors. The subject is not a fair measure.
I think the photographer should have some reason or purpose. I would hate to risk my life to take another bloody picture for the Daily News, but if it might change man’s mind against war, then I feel that it would be worth my life. But I would never advise anybody else to make this decision. It would have to be their own decision. For example, when I was on the carrier, I didn’t want to fly on Christmas Day because I didn’t want to color all the other Chistmases for my children.
He also shares thoughts on the issues of staging and retouching. It’s a fascinating read. Check out the full interview through the link below.
W. Eugene Smith: ‘I Didn’t Write the Rules, Why Should I Follow Them?’ [NYTimes]