Legendary photographer W. Eugene Smith's epic study of Pittsburgh in the 1950s.In 1955, having just ended his high-profile but stormy career with Life magazine by resigning, W. Eugene Smith was commissioned to spend three weeks in Pittsburgh and produce one hundred photographs for noted journalist and author Stefan Lorant's book commemorating the city's bicentennial. Smith stayed a year, compiling nearly sixteen thousand photographs for what would be the most ambitious photographic essay of his life. But only a fragment of the work was ever seen, despite Smith's lifelong conviction that it was his greatest set of photographs. Now, in an astonishing, first-time assemblage, edited by Sam Stephenson, of the group of core pictures that Smith asserted were the "synthesis of the whole," we see a portrayal not just of Pittsburgh but also of America at mid-century by a master photojournalist. In his accompanying essay, Alan Trachtenberg provides a critical reading of Smith's photographs, assessing Smith's attempt to document visually an American city in the context of the time period. 175 duotone photographs
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Sam Stephenson is a writer and consultant at the Center for Documentary Studies.
Alan Trachtenberg is Neil Grey Professor of American Studies and English Literature at Yale University.
In 1955, the historian Stefan Lorant hired W. Eugene Smith to make a hundred photographs of contemporary Pittsburgh for a book in celebration of the city's bicentennial; he expected the job to take no more than three weeks. But Smith, whose grand ambitions and uncompromising aesthetic had recently led him to resign his stormy tenure at Life, quickly became obsessed, shooting some seventeen thousand pictures. Inspired by Joyce and Faulkner, Smith envisioned a symphonic, multilayered photo essay portraying the entire city; his failure to complete it haunted him for the rest of his life. Here are more than a hundred and fifty of his noirish and oddly poignant images: gleaming railyards at night; buildings wrapped in clouds of industrial smoke; the face of a steelworker, the Bessemer fires reflected in his safety goggles.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
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