W. Eugene Smith was born in Wichita, Kansas, on 30 December 1918 and became a new photographer at the age of 15. He won a photographic scholarship to Notre Dame University and left in 1937 to become a photographer for Newsweek magazine. During World War II he was a correspondent photographer and covered numerous invasions and air combat missions. He was badly wounded and spent two years recuperating. He rejoined Life magazine in 1947, but after a series of differences over the way his pictures were used, he resigned in 1955 to join the international photographic agency Magnum.
Eugene Smith personified the concerned photographer, one for whom the medium was more a means of expressing his own fears and misgivings about the world than of simply creating effective images. He was invariably extremely involved with his subjects and often spent periods of a year or more working on a particular story. His final assignment, typical of his anguish and concern over man’s inhumanity to man, was a series of pictures on the effects of industrial waste on the people of a small fishing community in Japan. His involvement led to him being badly beaten up by men from the chemical company, and after returning to America, he gave up photojournalism and devoted the rest of his life to lecturing and exhibiting.
Not only was he one of the great masters of the picture story, but his pictures individually combine the harsh imagery of the documentary approach with the rich, brooding quality that characterizes his finely made prints.
W. Eugene Smith died on 15 October 1978 in Tucson, Arizona.