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the walk to paradise garden

August 3, 2007

William Eugene Smith (1918-1978) expressed without compromise the responsibility of a photographer not to distort the truth. A strong belief that often brought strain in his relationship with editors. In the 1940s he became a war reporter and was so famous about his courage and his dramatic reports were so honest that both the US press and Japanese magazines were publishing them.

On May 22, 1945, during the invasion of Okinawa, he was hit in the face and hand by granade fragments. A fragment passed through his left hand before entering his cheek just below the eye. “I forgot to duck but I got a wonderful shot of those who did… my policy of standing up when the others are down finally caught up with me” he said later in the hospital.

Almost two years and thirty operations after that incident, it was still not certain that he could use a camera again.

“The day I again tried for the first time to make a photograph I could barely load the roll of film into the camera. Yet I was determined that the first photograph would be a contrast to the war photographs and that it would speak an affirmation of life. Thus I took a picture of two children. My children.”

W.Eugene Smith - The Walk to Paradise Garden, New York 1946

W. Eugene Smith, The walk to Paradise Garden, New York 1946

This image was chosen by Edward Steichen to close the famous exhibition ‘The Family of Man

2 Comments leave one →
  1. José Luis permalink
    October 26, 2009 3:48 pm

    Last week i visited an exhibition about W.Eugene Smith at the Center of Andalusian Photography (Almería). This picture was the last one, after many of his works (Spanish Village, Nurse Midwife, Country Doctor, Manimata, Pittsburgh, etc….) and a few images of war. I could not avoid my tears in front of this picture. It´s really an affirmation of life. The best portrait of childhood and hope i´ve ever seen. I did not know the story about it. Thank you.

  2. Don Heath permalink
    April 11, 2010 6:32 pm

    One thing I’ve always loved about this photograph is that besides the tremendous effort Smith had to put into just loading the film and making the negative, the print took a lot more work and time to produce. In the pre-digital era, dealing with a high contrast subject like this required great care in developing the film and hours of work producing the final print with many, many trial prints going in the trash after hours of working to get the tones just right through dodging and burning-in. Perhaps even chemical bleaching and perhaps flashing the paper before putting in in the developer. It’s really exhausting but when you finally get it all right, it is a moment of great triumph.

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