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 W. Eugene Smith  (1918 - 1978)

About: W. Eugene Smith


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Lived/Active: Arizona/Kansas      Known for: photography

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
W(illiam) Eugene Smith was born December 30, 1918 in Wichita, Kansas.  He attended school in Wichita.  At the age of 14, Smith was interested in aeronautical engineering and borrowed a camera from his mother (also an enthusiastic photographer) to take pictures of the planes at the local airport.  Soon photography became his major interest and he spent his high-school years photographing for local newspapers in Wichita.

In 1936, at age 18, Smith entered Notre Dame University in Indiana where his pictures so impressed the faculty and administration that a special photographic scholarship was created for him.  Smith left the university a year later and, by the time he was twenty, he was doing free-lance work for Newsweek.  Over the next five years, he worked on over 170 assignments for Life, Collier’s and Flying Magazine.   In 1942 Smith became a war correspondent first for Ziff-Davis (Flying and Popular Photography) and later for Life.  Smith photographed the war, briefly in the Atlantic but most of the time in the island-to-island fighting in the Pacific.  He was in Okinawa on D Day and hitch-hiked twelve hundred miles to Guam to be sure that his pictures would get the fastest possible delivery back to Life.  Then he returned to the invasion on the first plane on which a correspondent could arrive.  He was severely wounded on May 21, 1945.

After convalescence, he again began photographing and working for Life.  He did over 20 major photo essays and revolutionized the concepts of photojournalism.  From 1955 until his death in 1978, Smith worked primarily on personal projects.  He spent the final two years of his life organizing his archive as the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ.

Exhibitions: Jewish Museum, 1970; Ulrich Museum, 1977; Museum of Modern Art, 1978; Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1985; Center for Creative Photography, 2002; International Center of Photography, 2008.

Awards: Guggenheim Fellowship, 1956, 1958.

Collections: Emprise Bank Collection; Smithsonian American Art Museum; Cleveland Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Library of Congress; Art Institute of Chicago; Cincinnati Art Museum; Columbus Museum of Art; Southeast Museum of Photography; Museum of Fine Arts Houston; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Chazen Museum of Art; Milwaukee Art Museum; and many more.
Susan Craig, "Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945)"
Wichita Art Museum’s Library Artists’ Files; Mora, Gilles, and John T. Hill, eds. W. Eugene Smith Photographs 1934-1975 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1998); Wichita Eagle (Oct. 16, 1978).
This and over 1,750 other biographies can be found in Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945) compiled by Susan V. Craig, Art & Architecture Librarian at University of Kansas.

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