Got a chance to look at The Body at Risk, the exhibit at the International Center of Photography. A lot of quality images, but what stood out to me were the images by W. Eugene Smith and Sebastiao Salgado. Too often, you see Smith’s photographs included in collections as single photographs, which does not do justice to his work and vision at all. Though his best known singles each show technical and photojournalistic accomplishment, Smith’s photographs are best viewed within the series that he envisioned. Additionally, when you see each photo in each series side by side, you also realize the incredible level of quality Smith was able to maintain throughout his work.
Smith was known for his epic battles against his editors at Life Magazine: he felt photographers should have much more control over the choice, organization and layout of photographs. It was great to finally see full-sized prints of his series “Nurse Midwife.” PBS, in its American Masters documentary on Smith says:
Smith would spend weeks immersing himself in the lives of his subjects. This approach, very different from the usual practices of photojournalism, reflected Smith’s desire to reveal the true essence of his subjects. For “Nurse Midwife,” the story of Maude Callen, a black woman working in an impoverished community in the rural South, Smith wanted his essay to “make a very strong point about racism, by simply showing a remarkable woman doing a remarkable job in an impossible situation.” Smith’s method of getting close to his subjects and photographing them from a more intimate perspective proved successful.