March 27 – June 16, 2002
Dream Street: W. Eugene Smith's Pittsburgh Photographs, an exhibition of work by one of the twentieth century's most distinguished photojournalists, will be on view at the International Center of Photography, 1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street, from March 27 through June 16, 2002. Smith's photographs of Pittsburgh have become legendary in the history of photography, not only for the breathtaking quality of the printed images, but because of Smith's ultimately unrealized ambition to turn the photographs into a groundbreaking photo-essay. In 1955, Smith was commissioned by renowned photo editor Stefan Lorant to produce 100 photographs for Lorant's book commemorating Pittsburgh's bicentennial, Pittsburgh: Story of an American City. After quarreling with Lorant over the scope of the project, Smith decided to expand the three-week assignment into a grand-scale, independent undertaking. He made 17,000 negatives between 1955 and 1957, and spent at least two years printing and arranging the work.
Although many of the Pittsburgh images have become icons, Smith felt that the value of the photographs lay in the expressive potential of the organized whole. Many magazines, including Life, were interested in publishing the project, but Smith was never satisfied with the arrangements for editorial control. Finally, Popular Photography agreed to give Smith 38 pages in its 1959 Photography Annual. The resulting spread was an abridged version of Smith's larger vision for the essay, and he considered the published layout, aptly titled “Labyrinthian Walk,” to be a failure. Unable to create the complex masterpiece that he imagined, Smith put aside the approximately 6,000 5 x 7 inch work prints and the 1,200 meticulously crafted prints that he produced while editing the project. Although he had been awarded two successive Guggenheim Fellowships to continue his efforts, the endeavor had drained him physically and financially.
Dream Street brings together for the
first time a select group of 193 photographs from the Pittsburgh project. The
exhibition's curator, Sam Stephenson, a writer and research consultant at the
Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, selected the images based on
extensive research. “The bulk of my work over five years has been trying to
identify—from all the clues, fragments, and vague blueprints that Smith left
behind—the set of some 200 Pittsburgh images that he deemed the ‘synthesis of
the whole,’” says Stephenson. The exhibition is organized in ten sections
loosely modeled on Smith's intentions for the layout, which are documented in
artist sketches and snapshots of the bulletin boards on which he worked out his
ideas. The exhibition also features letters, documents, work prints, contact
sheets, magazine layouts, and other ancillary materials that offer a rare
opportunity to understand Smith's creative process.
The exhibition is made possible by the union of images from two of the largest collections of Smith's Pittsburgh photographs—nearly 1,200 original prints from the collections of the Carnegie Museum of Art and the W. Eugene Smith Archive at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona. The ICP presentation of the exhibition will be supplemented by Smith works from the International Center of Photography Archive and Collections.
Accompanying the exhibition is a major publication, Dream Street: W. Eugene Smith's Pittsburgh Project, edited by Sam Stephenson. The 176-page, hardcover book contains 175 images, as well as essays by Stephenson and Alan Trachtenberg, Neil Grey Professor of American Studies and English Literature at Yale University, a specialist on American photography.
The exhibition will also feature the 27-minute film "Brilliant Fever: W. Eugene Smith and Pittsburgh," produced and directed by Kenneth Love, a Pittsburgh-based filmmaker and photographer.
About W. Eugene Smith
Born in 1918, Smith began his career at the age of fourteen as a stringer for newspapers in Wichita, Kansas, his hometown. His work earned him a photography scholarship to Notre Dame University, but Smith left after the first year to pursue a career in New York City. In the years before World War II, Smith's photographs were seen in America's best-known magazines, including Life, Collier's, and Harper's Bazaar, as well as The New York Times. By 1939, Smith was a full-time staff photographer at Life, but he resigned after two years, disappointed with the quality of his assignments.
During World War II, Smith spent two years photographing frontline combat in the Pacific theater for the Ziff-Davis publishing company. In 1944, he rejoined Life as a war correspondent, and captured the struggle between Allied and Japanese forces for control of Guam, Saipan, Okinawa, the Philippines, and Iwo Jima. During the war, Smith developed his conviction that photojournalism should work in the service of social justice. After a shrapnel wound ended his wartime career, Smith returned to Life, where he undertook more than 50 assignments from 1947 to 1954. His photo-essays, such as "Spanish Village," depicting the everyday drama of a small, traditional community, “Nurse Midwife,” showing nobility amidst racism and poverty, and “Country Doctor,” about a simple life dedicated to healing, and numerous others, are considered major works in the history of photojournalism. Although he gained fame and earned a high salary for his work at Life, Smith constantly wrangled with editors for control over the selection, layout, and captioning of his work. Arguments grew increasingly vitriolic, and in 1954 Smith resigned from his position as staff photographer and joined Magnum, the photographer's cooperative, just before accepting the Lorant assignment. After abandoning the Pittsburgh project in 1958, Smith spent the next decade in his loft in downtown New York City, taking pictures from his window of life on the street and photographing fellow artists and musicians. In 1970, Smith organized an acclaimed retrospective of his work, "Let Truth be the Prejudice," at the Jewish Museum in New York City. Soon after, he spent several years in Japan working with his second wife Aileen Smith on Minimata, a book about the consequences of industrial pollution on a fishing village. Smith died in Tucson, Arizona in 1978.
Dream Street premiered at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. After its ICP showing, the exhibition will be on view at the Center for Creative Photography, the University of Arizona, Tucson, from July 13 through September 29, 2002. A smaller version of the exhibition is tentatively scheduled to be on view at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina in early 2003.
Dream Street: W. Eugene Smith's Pittsburgh Photographs is organized by Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, with the participation of the W. Eugene Smith Archive at the Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona.
Major support for the organization of the exhibition has been provided by the Henry L. Hillman Foundation, The Fellows of Carnegie Museum of Art, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Corporate sponsorship is provided by TIAA-CREF. The exhibition is made possible in part by the generous support of the National Endowment for the Arts.
The ICP presentation of Dream Street is made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Additional support was provided by David and Danielle Ganek, the Harriet Ames Charitable Trust, and the Susan and Elihu Rose Foundation.
The exhibition was curated by Sam Stephenson, and organized by Linda Batis, Associate Curator of Fine Arts at the Carnegie Museum of Art. The ICP presentation is organized by Cynthia Fredette, Assistant Curator.