An incisive biography of the prolific photo-essayist W. Eugene Smith
In an interview with Philippe Halsman, W. Eugene Smith remarked: “I didn’t write the rules—why should I follow them?” Famously unabashed, Smith is photography’s most celebrated humanist. During his reign as a photo-essayist at Life magazine in the 1940s and 1950s, he established himself as an intimate chronicler of human culture. His photographs of jazz musicians, disasters, doctors, and midwives revolutionized the role that image-making played in journalism, transforming photography for decades to come.
In 1997, lured by the intoxicating trail of people that emerged from Smith’s stupefying archive, Sam Stephenson set out to research those who knew him from various angles. In Gene Smith’s Sink, Stephenson revives Smith’s life and legacy, merging traditional biography with highly untraditional digressions. Traveling across twenty-nine states, Japan, and the Pacific, Stephenson tracks down a lively cast of characters, including the playwright Tennessee Williams, to whom Smith likened himself; the avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage, with whom he once shared a chalet; the artist Mary Frank, who was married to his friend Robert Frank; and Thelonious Monk and Sonny Clark, whom Smith recorded on surreptitious tapes.
The result of twenty years of research, Gene Smith’s Sink is an unprecedented look into the photographer’s beguiling legacy and the subjects around him.