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‘Photography Made Difficult’: The Life and Work of Photojournalist W. Eugene Smith


“Photography Made Difficult” is a 1989 documentary about the career of renowned photojournalist William Eugene Smith, a man who helped to pioneer the concept of the photo essay. It runs 1 hour and 40 minutes long.

The film concludes with the story of how Smith sacrificed his safety to document the effects of mercury poisoning caused by the Chisso Company dumping heavy metals into water sources around the Japanese city of Minamata.

He was violently attacked by company employees in January 1972, leaving vision in one of his eyes permanently damaged. After recovering from his injuries, Smith continued to shoot for his photo essay on Minamata disease, as it was called, which included a photo now known as “Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath.” It shows a mother cradling her severely deformed daughter in a bath:

"Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath" by W. Eugene Smith.
“Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath” by W. Eugene Smith.

That iconic photo was published just a few months after the attack and went on to draw the world’s attention to the struggle of the victims of Chisso’s actions. It’s an image that’s considered by some to be Smith’s single greatest photo that capped off a legendary career. Smith passed away from a stroke on October 15, 1978.